This is first in a series of articles about diversity.
In 2015, protests broke out nationwide with students demanding more professors in higher education who “look like me.”
By then, Georgia College was already taking steps to correct the problem and bring more underrepresented groups to campus.
In 2010, the university started its African-American Male Initiative (AAMI)—a support program designed to help black males complete college. A few years later, President Steve Dorman commissioned a group of faculty and staff to develop a blueprint for more diversity and inclusion campuswide.
That Diversity Action Plan was unveiled in 2013. Georgia College started Call Me MiSTER a year later. It’s the state’s first and only MiSTER program, aimed at encouraging African-American males to become teachers.
In 2015—just months before protests broke out nationally—Georgia College was welcoming its first group at the Rising MiSTER Academy, a completely-free summer spin-off program of Call Me MiSTER for black male high school youth.
“What we’ve gotten better at is creating an environment where those critical conversations around diversity and inclusion can happen. That’s one of our strengths. Georgia College is open to new ideas,” said Dr. Emmanuel Little, director of Call Me MiSTER and minority retention.
The university’s administration recognizes there is still much work to do. But data shows signs of progress, especially in graduation rates. African-American students are well-served here, and a high percentage reach graduation.
A study released in September by the University of Southern California (USC) Race and Equity Center graded higher-education institutions throughout the United States. “Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities, A 50-State Report Card,” funded by Ford Foundation, had mostly good news for Georgia College.
The study gives Georgia College a grade “A” and the state’s third-best graduation rate among black students, 56.7 percent behind the University of Georgia at 81 percent and Georgia Institute of Technology at 76.3 percent.
That report also gives Georgia College the state’s second-best “equity index” score, 2.50, which is equivalent to a Grade Point Average (GPA) on all indicators studied. The average score across 506 institutions nationwide was 2.02.
Georgia College scored another grade “A,” when comparing the number of African-American students to African-American faculty—a ratio of 11 to 1. Nationally, according to the USC report, only 16 schools in 11 states had better ratios. Those numbers are good—but that’s because the university’s overall numbers of underrepresented students are low.
Improvements have been made—especially in the hiring of underrepresented faculty, “but we’re not there yet,” said Dr. Veronica Womack, chief diversity officer in the Office of Inclusive Excellence.
“There are a lot of good things happening,” she said. “Nothing’s going to change overnight. But we’re putting down the foundation and institutionalizing it so it’ll be sustainable. And that’s the beauty of it.”
Within the state’s public university system—Georgia College has the third-best rate for retaining first-year African-American students, at more than 90 percent, according to information obtained from the University System of Georgia website.
The four-year graduation rate for black students is the second-best in the system. About half graduate within four years. Georgia College is also above the USG average for retaining and graduating Hispanic students.
“If a student from a minority population attends Georgia College, he or she will most likely graduate successfully in four years,” said Dr. Chavonda Mills, chemistry professor and interim associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on,” she said. “We bring in students and provide them with the support systems they need to be successful.”
Looking to the future: Ramon Blakley, director of admissions, said Georgia College’s minority applications are on the upswing for fall 2019. The biggest area of growth is with Hispanic student applications—up 25 percent by Nov. 5, 2018.
That’s promising, because “small, rural schools—unless they are minority-serving—are typically not very diverse places,” Womack said.
“Dr. Dorman was proactive. He came in and made this a priority of his administration,” she said. “We have to be happy for the successes that we’ve had, and I wouldn’t say they’ve been small. But we still have much more work to do.”