August 31, 2009

Event Encourages Minority Achievement

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Only three out of four Black male students at Cornell graduate in six years, deputy provost David Harris said yesterday in an annual event aiming to foster acquaintances amongst new and returning Black and Latino students.
Although 85 percent of Black students graduate within six years, around 90 percent of those are female and only around 75 percent of those are male, Harris said in his presentation entitled “Diversity and Cornell: What is it and how are we doing?”
“It turns out that even if you control for high school GPA and parent education levels, you’ll actually find that the percent of black students who graduate is less than it should be,” Harris said. “This means that something is going on in the institutions that causes them to underachieve.”
Harris spoke in the LINK Men’s Alliance’s annual Academic Collaboration Event yesterday. The organization, which was founded in 1996, aims to foster Leadership, Initiative of Networking, and Knowledge of self amongst Black and Latino males at Cornell. The purpose of ACE is to get upperclassmen acquainted with underclassmen, so they can help them to navigate the rigors of Cornell.
Co-presidents Alex Muir ’10 and Nicolás Chavez ’10 said the alarming statistics that Harris presented during reunion over the summer motivated the organization to try to improve minority performance at Cornell.
Chavez noted that expectations for minority students are often lower.
“An issue within our communities is that we settle for mediocrity; as minorities on campus we find that we’re not expected to do as well as others so that’s where we set our expectations,” he said.
In an attempt to combat such an attitude, upperclassmen and underclassmen from the same colleges and majors get together during ACE to discuss techniques to succeed.
“There are certain tricks of the trade you can learn from upperclassmen,” Chavez said.
This year, LINK is introducing a new scholarship program called the “Make it Happen Scholarship,” in which an underclassman and upperclassman — preferably of the same major — are paired together. At the end of the semester, the pair with the highest combined GPA of the semester wins the scholarship. In addition to providing an incentive to perform well, the purpose of this scholarship is to provide mentorship for students and to imbue them with a sense of accountability to each other, Chavez said.
Muir said that the organization will obtain funding for this scholarship through fundraising and encouraging alumni support with the help of Renée Alexander ‘74, director of Minority Alumni Programs.
“There is currently a lot of mentorship support that comes from the alumni, but we’re trying to make a push for fiscal support as well,” Muir added.
Alexander, who was also in attendance yesterday, explained her role.
“Part of my mission is to connect groups to their alumni,” Alexander said. “Black alumni and Latino alumni are slowly getting into the giving game.”
Another goal that the LINK has this year is to double the number of Black and Latino students on the Dean’s List. Harris pointed out that simply considering graduation rates is not a good measure of success since it fails to take into account the students’ level of performance. The LINK therefore aims to quantify achievement in a better way. Currently, only 26 percent of Latino students and 12 percent of Black students are on the Dean’s List, compared to 40 percent of White students. The LINK’s goal is double the percent of Latino students on the List to 52, and that of Black students to 24.
Harris defined diversity as being composed of four different dimensions — composition, engagement, inclusion and achievement.
“I’m hoping that the LINK’s efforts hit on two of those different dimensions — inclusion and achievement. I love the idea that the LINK has set a goal, as one of the things that helps you succeed is setting goals,” Harris said.