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New Mexico School Seeks To Serve Black Students

Audio

Aired 7/25/12

New Mexico often touts its tri-cultural diversity, which can make it difficult for the small population of black students at the University of New Mexico.

Special Feature The Search For Tolerance

Fronteras: The Changing America Desk has joined forces with Not in Our Town documentary producers to determine how hate affects communities throughout the Southwest and what people are doing about it.

— New Mexico often touts its tri-cultural diversity: a white minority population, a Hispanic majority and nearly two dozen Native American tribes.

But the African-American community there is teenie, almost invisible. That makes it more difficult for black students at the University of New Mexico, where four out of five African-American men don’t graduate.

The Fuller family moved their six children to Albuquerque to take advantage of New Mexico’s in-state scholarship programs. Jason Fuller left all of his high school friends behind in his hometown of Detroit, a city that’s more than three-quarters African-American. His new home is a dusty, sprawling city in the middle Rio Grande Valley, where African-Americans make up just 3 percent of the population.

"I was not particularly happy with the move, for the most part, just everything, the food, the clothing, the climate, everything is entirely different," Fuller said.

Fuller moved into a dorm at the University of New Mexico’s main campus and it didn’t take him long to go looking for a familiar face.

"Within two days I found out where African-American Student Services is located," he said.

Cultural isolation makes college hard, especially when combined with being a first generation college student or working full- or part-time like the majority of UNM’s undergraduates.

And it may account for the startlingly bad graduation rates for African-American men here, among the worst in the country.

That graduation rate is a number that organizers of MOCA, UNM’s new Men Of Color Alliance, want to change.

The pilot program was launched last year to study the needs of students of color, find out what works to fill those needs, and then make it happen at UNM. Student ethnic centers are on the front line.

"It is a culture shock and it is kinda hard to adjust when you are walking around and you don’t see people that look like you," student Christina Foster said.

Foster’s home away from home is UNM’s African American Student Services. She’s a dual psychology/history major, minoring in Africana studies. During finals week, she said the Center is jammed with cramming students.

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"You’ll see everybody just workin’, workin’, and then all of a sudden somebody plays some music on YouTube and everybody’s kinda relaxin’ for like 30 minutes and then we get right back to work," Foster said. "You can’t do that other places."

And Foster knows. She grew up in Albuquerque and now works at the Center helping students resolve scheduling problems, find cheap textbooks, and navigate that culture shock.

Foster said it's especially hard for black men here, who tell her they are often the targets of suspicion and racial profiling. Sometimes they just want to talk -- about things they feel they can’t talk about with other people.

"We’re all we got, it’s really what it comes down to," Foster said.

In a survey commissioned last year by UNM’s president to examine the racial climate at UNM, respondents from all levels of the university community said African-Americans are excluded, isolated, and ignored and not an integral part of the University’s identity. The report's recommendations include elevating the Africana Studies program to full departmental status and inventorying university programs serving African-Americans. It won’t be easy.

"It's like a big aircraft carrier and to try to have us move and change direction, it's monumental," said Christopher Ramirez of the University's Division of Equity and Inclusion and a project assistant with MOCA.

"We have a changing student population, that’s not new, it’s something we’re newly embracing, I think," Ramirez said.

Ramirez said the program is trying to work smarter, maximize resources, and connect existing programs.

And things have already changed for the first round of eight MOCA participants. They were paired with upperclassmen mentors, attended events and took part in an end of the year retreat. And their GPAs went up. All of them.

MOCA co-facilitator Patrick Barrett says the minimally funded pilot project works. Now, the trick is to expand the program, reach out to more students, and make sure they get all the way to commencement day.

"Most important, we need the administration to back us. Because we have men at the very end of this journey and they're getting cut short and the major reason is funding," Barrett said.

Division of Equity and Inclusion officials say they'll be looking for additional funding, and MOCA organizers will be watching for the university to put more skin in the game. As Barrett said, to drop out because of money kind of defeats the purpose.

Comments

Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | July 26, 2012 at 12:25 p.m. ― 2 years ago

"It is a culture shock and it is kinda hard to adjust when you are walking around and you don’t see people that look like you," student Christina Foster said.

===

Why not segregate each race into separate campuses? That would be the most accommodating policy to best serve students from a variety of backgrounds and cater to their unique cultural needs.

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Avatar for user 'llk'

llk | July 26, 2012 at 1:35 p.m. ― 2 years ago

CaliforniaDefender, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume you're a white.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | July 26, 2012 at 2:01 p.m. ― 2 years ago

Homogenization is a better solution to these differences. Adaptation to the culture one is in is an important prerequisite to modifying or improving that culture.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | July 26, 2012 at 4:45 p.m. ― 2 years ago

There's no shame in feeling a little out of place. No one has to apologize for the disparity because it's been acknowledged and steps are being taken to increase African-American enrollment. If they stick with it, the A/A students presently at UNM will leave a legacy for others to follow. Befriending and creating networks with Caucasians, Latinos, Native Americans and others is a wonderful opportunity.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | July 26, 2012 at 6:01 p.m. ― 2 years ago

Ilk,

I take it you are trying to label me "a white" because you disagree with my view? If I'm not "a white", would that improve the validity of my view?

DeLaRick,

Befriending other cultures/races is not what most students are looking for as Christina Foster indicated, she was concerned about the lack of people that looked like her. She also indicated that she was only able to study when around those of her own race.

This is perfectly fine and UNM encourages that behavior by having an African American Student Services office. However, it would be far more efficient to create universities that focus on the unique needs of a particular culture/race.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 27, 2012 at 9:05 a.m. ― 2 years ago


La Jolla Fashion Film Festival | World's Largest Gathering of Fashion ...

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Oct 25, 2011 – One of Hollywood's Most Sought After Leaders in Branded Entertainment to Attend La Jolla Fashion Film Festival. Fashion's freshest event

I was waiting to read CA rant about Fashion segregating itself from "non-fashion" when this story originally ran! LOL

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 27, 2012 at 9:11 a.m. ― 2 years ago

KPBS, why are you repeating the same pix, it is not from this story but from some other event.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | July 27, 2012 at 9:54 a.m. ― 2 years ago

"Befriending other cultures/races is not what most students are looking for as Christina Foster indicated, she was concerned about the lack of people that looked like her. She also indicated that she was only able to study when around those of her own race. "

I didn't get that impression from the article, but perhaps I misread it. In any case, I find that mode of thinking dangerously counterproductive. College is supposed to be a broadening experience that prepares one for work in the real world. If someone is trained to be able to work only within a carefully controlled group of peers from the same ethnic background that does not bode well for their prospects in the general population. I accept that there is a place for role models of the same sex and skin tone. I am skeptical that it is beneficial to aspirants to choose their role models primarily on those criteria or to self-isolate in the pursuit of comfort.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | July 27, 2012 at 5:19 p.m. ― 2 years ago

Mission,

Try to bring something intellectual to the debate, or at minimum stay on topic. Nobody is laughing with you (perhaps at you) and I'm only responding out of pity.

Benz,

I do agree that college should broaden one's experiences. However, it doesn't appear that hyphenated groups wish to engage in collective multiculturalism anymore.

After a long struggle to find and assert their identity, they now wish to protect it through self-segregation and even state-sponsored segregation.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 27, 2012 at 10:44 p.m. ― 2 years ago

A little too bulls-eye with the satire, eh, for that ridiculous post on the Black Film Festival earlier this year.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | July 28, 2012 at 1:02 p.m. ― 1 year, 12 months ago

Mission,

My perspective has changed. I know that may be hard for a radical leftist to comprehend, but it is not unusual for a centrist.

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