Jan. 9, 2003
Vol. 22 No. 7

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    Reorganized office will direct a full spectrum of diversity initiatives

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    A new campus organization and a new policymaking board have been created to broaden and enhance the activities of the Coordinating Council for Minority Issues. The Office of Minority Student Affairs will now be responsible for the CCMI programs that have been focused on minority student life.

    A new board that has not yet been named will deal with the full range of minority issues related to faculty, staff and students.

    It will apply a master planning process to develop policies for campus-wide diversity enhancement initiatives. The board will be co-chaired by Ken Warren, Professor of English Language & Literature, and Steve Klass, Vice President and Dean of Students in the University.

    Klass and Richard Saller, University Provost, led the efforts to form OMSA and the new board. “We hope that the new OMSA will focus on the delivery of even more beneficial programming and support to minority students and on the development of awareness in the wider community of issues related to diversity,” Provost Saller said. “This is one of a series of changes designed to improve our recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty at the University.”

    Kathryn Stell, Deputy Dean of Students in the University and Assistant to the Provost, who has served as Chairman of CCMI since 1994, will become OMSA’s first director.

    “The University wants to focus even more strongly on the needs of underrepresented minority students, with the ultimate goal, of course, that one day they will not be underrepresented. The numbers are low enough that we believe there are outstanding potential students whom we are just not reaching in terms of what the University has to offer,” Stell said.

    Initially formed as an ad hoc student, faculty and staff committee in 1986, CCMI grew into a formal office within the central administration with a council of 16 administrators drawn from various units of the University.

    “The name change from CCMI to OMSA acknowledges that what was once a dialogue among administrators has evolved into a dynamic program office that provides a range of services in partnership with other offices on campus,” Klass explained.

    OMSA will continue CCMI’s services, which have included a pre-orientation for incoming minority graduate students; a welcoming reception for all minority students, faculty and staff; the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Commemoration, co-sponsored with Rockefeller Memorial Chapel; and the Reception for Minority Alumni and Graduating Students. In addition, CCMI has produced and distributed its Resource Guide for African-American, Latino and Native American Students.

    Another role that OMSA will inherit from CCMI will be to create strategies for crisis response and intervention that include the Minority Student Emergency Contingency Fund, which provides small grants for students faced with a sudden unanticipated expense.

    “A family financial crisis usually has a disproportional, severe impact on minority students, whose families often do not have any safety net when there is a disruptive event such as a death or a divorce,” Stell said. She noted that students in a financial bind often have no choice except to take a leave of absence from their studies, and a large percentage do not return.

    OMSA will move forward on CCMI’s work as a policy and advocacy group for minority students and their issues. In the past, CCMI has worked with other campus offices and outside foundations and consortia to gather and analyze data on minority student recruitment, retention and graduation as a way to assess the University’s progress in this area.

    OMSA will direct an informal mentoring program, begun last year by CCMI, that matches approximately 80 minority graduate students who have volunteered to act as role models with minority students in the College. In a related effort, the College has recently launched the Collegiate Mentorship Program, to be housed in the Harper Mezzanine, which will address the higher attrition rate of minority students through activities that will include intensive one-on-one tutoring.

    “Retention walks hand-in-hand with recruitment,” Stell said. “And a happy, successful student is the best recruiter we can have. Our student body is more socio-economically diverse than our peer institutions. Many incoming students–not just minority students–are often extraordinarily challenged by the intense academic environment here because they have not had the high school background in college-prep training that has been afforded to others.”

    Stell is excited about the new OMSA office for students because she believes it can provide the overarching strategy that will fully realize the benefits of the many initiatives across the campus.

    “OMSA can lead a strategic vision for our programs for minority students that can truly tap the resources of our vibrant community,” she said.