CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.
A decade-long effort to attract and retain more Black students to Southeast Missouri State University is paying off.
The Cape Girardeau-based university has a record 873 Black undergraduate and graduate students enrolled this fall. That’s 545 more than in 1995. Black students are 8.4 percent of the university population this year, compared with 4 percent a decade ago.
Tanetra Flewellen has seen the difference just walking around campus.
“When we first came here we knew everybody,” said Flewellen, 19, a sophomore from St. Louis. Now, she and her friends regularly run into Black students who are total strangers.
The university, segregated until 1954, this fall enrolled 819 Black undergraduate students among the nearly 9,000 total students, giving it a higher percentage of Black undergraduates than the 2004 statewide average of 8.5 percent among 13 public, four-year colleges in Missouri. Last fall, Blacks made up 7.4 percent of Southeast Missouri’s undergraduate students.
Among Southeast’s 1,679 beginning freshmen this fall, Blacks account for 13 percent of the students. Southeast has 54 Black graduate students, amounting to 4 percent of the school’s 1,324 graduate students.
“We are talking about real change here,” said Dennis Holt, vice president of administration and enrollment management. He cites recruitment efforts — especially in the St. Louis area — as well as the hiring of more Black faculty and staff, development of mentoring programs for minority students and efforts to reach out to Missouri’s Black leaders.
It’s a big change from a decade ago. A three-member delegation of Black students told the Board of Regents in October 1996 that they felt alienated and isolated.
“We are tired of having to explain, justify or defend the Black race each time we go to class,” student Danielle Carter said at the time.
Dale Nitzschke, then SEMO’s president, developed a minority programs office and formed a statewide minority affairs commission to advise the university on minority issues.
“We have had a change of climate,” said Trent Ball, who is Black and came to Southeast in 1992 as a graduate student and now is assistant dean of students, supervising minority programs.
Through federally funded programs, the university now reaches out to minority students in southeast Missouri starting in the sixth grade. The so-called Trio programs encourage minority students to enroll and graduate from college.
Southeast now has 13 full-time faculty members who are Black, five more than in 1995. With 400 total faculty members, the percentage is still small. But school officials said it is improving.
Ball said the university has a program to mentor minority students. He said many are first-generation college students.
The message to the students, he said, is clear. “Your first job is your education,” Ball said.
Anna Burton, a 19-year-old sophomore from St. Louis, said the university’s biggest recruitment tool is the Black students themselves.
“It’s word of mouth,” she said.
Russell Crawford, 22, a senior from Charleston, Mo., said the university has provided opportunities for Black students to meet Blacks who have succeeded in various business careers. “It lets you know that when you graduate and go into the real world you can be somebody,” he said.
— Associated Press
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