Ercilla Dometz-Hendrix is a Jackson State Ph.D. student in urban planning from Nicaragua.
As the 2013-2014 academic year began, Jackson State University in Mississippi and Southern University at Baton Rouge in Louisiana were welcoming to their campuses dozens of students from Brazil for intensive courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as in English language skills. At both schools, the Brazilian students’ presence culminated months of planning as part of diversity initiatives put forth by the institutions. It was also a part of Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program sponsored by the Brazilian government.
The scientific mobility program is part of the Brazilian government’s larger effort to grant 100,000 scholarships for the best students from Brazil to study abroad. The program contains an HBCU Initiative, which provides scholarships to some of its undergraduate students for study at 30 Black colleges and universities in the United States. Scholarships are given primarily to students in the STEM fields, and students participating in the program are required to return to Brazil to complete their degrees. HBCUs lobbied for inclusion in the program, which originally involved traditionally White institutions.
Jackson State and Southern University are among a growing number of HBCUs that have established agreements to educate students from Latin America for part of their matriculation. Administrators at both schools say they are benefiting financially and culturally. Dr. Barbara Carpenter, dean of international education and director of continuing education at SUBR, arranges MOUs with colleges in Latin American countries. She says she is looking forward to intensifying the recruitment of Hispanics both internationally and domestically.
For U.S. universities, including a number of HBCUs, Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program and others like it that send international students to the United States are adding diversity to campuses and boosting enrollment at a time when the institutions are in need of both. Diversity officers say they have ramped up recruitment efforts in recent years. While some schools are focusing on international recruitment, others have found fertile ground domestically.
One institution that has been successful on the domestic front is Delaware State University, where admissions counselor Kevin Noriega, a 2011 DSU graduate who is bilingual, says Latino enrollment has reached 6.4 percent. “One of my goals is to keep that percentage increasing,” Noriega tells Diverse, adding that “many of the parents have Spanish as their native language, so when I talk to them, there is an immediate connection.”
Noriega says the overall goal is to bolster the university’s total enrollment, which is currently 4,265, while continuing to improve its diversity, which benefits the entire campus.
Carlos Holmes, Delaware State’s director of news services, says the university’s Hispanic enrollment has more than tripled within the last decade. Eight years ago, it was just 2 percent, he explains, adding that Noriega is the second admissions counselor focusing on the Hispanic population. Holmes adds that, beyond recruitment, inclusion is an important factor in retaining diverse students. “We have an active Latino Student Association, which does a lot of community outreach,” he says, also noting that it is open to all students, not just Latinos.
Carpenter says HBCUs can do more to recruit Hispanic students. “It [Hispanic recruitment] is successful to a point, but it could be more aggressive,” she says, citing the need for bilingual materials for the parents and Hispanic recruiters to meet with them. “We need to send out people who look like the people they are talking to.”
SUBR Chancellor James L. Llorens agrees. “Although our focus has been on international outreach, we also are prepared to expand our outreach into the Hispanic community here in Baton Rouge, in Louisiana and in surrounding states … to increase their enrollment here at Southern University,” Llorens says.
At Jackson State, being a part of Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program is an expansion of the university’s existing programs. Ercilla Dometz-Hendrix, a Jackson State Ph.D. student in urban planning from Nicaragua, praised the school’s welcoming environment. “It has been a positive experience,” says Dometz-Hendrix, who also earned her master’s in political science at Jackson State.
“I was very worried about culture shock coming from Nicaragua, but I’m happy that I chose Jackson State because it made the transition easier,” she says. “The university makes an effort to include everybody in campus life.”
Dometz-Hendrix adds there are numerous cultural similarities between Hispanic and HBCU students, and the Office of International Studies plans various activities, including trips to historical sites in other cities to introduce international students to various aspects of American culture.
Noriega, who is from Venezuela, entered Delaware State on a baseball scholarship, and says his undergraduate experience was so positive that he wanted to encourage other Hispanics to attend the school. “It’s such a vibrant campus and there is so much diversity.”
Noriega says the support system was exceptional — everyone was willing to help. “I know from my own experience that there are opportunities here for Latinos because they gave those opportunities to me,” he says, adding that he was encouraged to take part in student government, which he did, and to pursue a graduate degree, which he has begun. He is working on his master’s degree in business administration. Like Dometz-Hendrix at Jackson State, he says the cultural activities and campus environment enhanced his experience.
One of the most outspoken advocates for increasing Hispanic — and other diverse enrollment — at HBCUs is Johnny C. Taylor, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which provides support to public HBCUs. He explains that “diversity is good for HBCUs, so we need to be very deliberate about it.”
Taylor cited several HBCUs that have been aggressive in this area, including Alcorn State in Mississippi and Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M in Texas. Earlier this year, Alcorn hosted a Diversity and Inclusion Summit, which convened administrators, faculty and students from dozens of institutions to share concerns and best practices for broader recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups. The event was so successful that a sequel is scheduled for next spring at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.
Several HBCUs administrators tell Diverse they had cut back on diversity recruitment in recent years because of limited resources, even though they continue to be committed to multicultural enrollment.
Taylor points out that “it’s not enough to just achieve diversity; the institutions must then create an inclusive environment. If the students aren’t happy, they will leave, so inclusion is as important as diversity,” a point that also was emphasized by Alcorn President M. Christopher Brown at its Diversity and Inclusion Summit.
In addition to its financial benefits, diversity helps to prepare African-American students for successful careers, Taylor contends. “Many of our students grew up in a Black community, went to a Black church and attended Black public schools. They absolutely should be exposed to White and Latino students because they will be working in a diverse workplace. The HBCUs are still going to be historically Black no matter what,” says Taylor.
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