Across the U.S., institutions of higher education must work to allocate resources and provide services to meet the evolving needs of their student populations. At times, this requires the creation of unique programs and support systems that go above and beyond mainstream offerings. The following universities demonstrate this level of commitment through their efforts to help underrepresented, first-generation, LGBTQ, and international students succeed.
[Above: The Kendall Bell in Bayless Plaza on the University of Tulsa’s campus]
University of Colorado Boulder
First-generation and underrepresented students at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) benefit from scholarship funding and extensive support services offered through the university’s CU LEAD Alliance. Under the alliance, nearly every college and school within the university provides additional academic and personal enrichment to best serve these students.
“Each [school] follows a slightly different model depending on its students’ needs,” says Alphonse Keasley, PhD, associate vice chancellor for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement. “The [overall] alliance model is based on providing transitional programs, cohort involvement, academic enrichment and tutoring, and preparation for the next level [after graduation].”
The Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program (MASP) in the College of Arts and Sciences, for example, accepts an annual cohort of approximately 40 incoming freshmen who identify as first-generation or minority. According to Keasley, program staff select participants who demonstrate superior academic ability and a commitment to building community and supporting others.
The first component of MASP is a five-week summer program designed to introduce students to the unfamiliar environment of a college campus and the academic rigors of a CU Boulder education. Known as the Program for Excellence in Academics and Community (PEAC), the experience fosters a sense of communal responsibility and support among the cohort through team-building exercises and social excursions.
Its primary purpose, however, is to familiarize students with the expectations of a college classroom. Participants must take a total of five PEAC courses, which operate on an accelerated schedule and are taught by specially trained MASP instructors; these include mandatory writing classes and enrichment seminars that cover academic topics and practical matters like time management.
“PEAC offers students courses that will be part of their first-year requirements; if a student is majoring in biology, for example, we’d make sure he or she takes at least one math and one science course,” Keasley says, adding that the program helps participants develop strong study habits they may not have learned in high school. “We intentionally don’t grade the students in PEAC because we want the courses to be as intensive as possible without actually affecting their GPAs.”
Upon completion of the program, Keasley says students are officially inducted into MASP and receive a CU LEAD Alliance “participation” scholarship to cover a portion of their tuition for the duration of their undergraduate experience, provided they meet certain requirements. In addition to maintaining a 3.0 GPA, they must spend three to five study hours per week in the MASP office — a communal space for students to work, socialize, and receive tutoring — and attend ongoing enrichment seminars and events.
They must also attend regular meetings with MASP advisers who help them understand how to set and achieve short- and long-term goals. As with all alliance programs, Keasley says MASP’s requirements are strategically designed to ensure that first-generation and minority students — despite being underrepresented on campus — can become role models, demonstrating to others like themselves how to be successful at CU Boulder.
University of Delaware
Using methods and resources tailored to address the needs of its LGBTQ+ student population, the University of Delaware (UD) has created a campus climate that is inclusive of all sexual and gender identities.
“Because students come into the LGBTQ+ community with a range of experiences, identities, and needs, it is important to have a variety of programs and services available [for their] personal and educational development,” says Stephanie Chang, director of student diversity and inclusion. “It’s all about giving them options from multiple support and engagement units on campus — whether it’s to assist with emotional needs, academic or career development, or [providing] social opportunities.”
For example, she says UD recognizes that some students may be just beginning to question their sexual or gender identity or may be hesitant to reveal their identity publicly. To support these individuals through the often difficult process of self-discovery and coming out, UD’s Center for Counseling and Student Development, in partnership with the LGBTQ+ student organization Haven, offers biweekly lunches known as Lav Chats. These provide a relaxed and safe space for questioning students to connect with one another, Haven members, and counseling staff.
“Students come to UD at different points during their coming out process or [at different stages of] awareness regarding their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, … and they may want to talk with their peers about being part of the LGBTQ+ community but don’t have the space or ability to do so outside of UD,” Chang explains. “This experience can be quite stressful, and we’re fortunate to have an LGBTQ+ friendly and supportive [center] to assist these individuals.”
UD is also dedicated to meeting the needs of transgender students or those who identify as non-binary. The university has long offered “all gender” housing options and, in summer 2017, opened gender-inclusive restrooms in buildings across campus. These facilities are designed to “decrease heteronormative assumptions … that leave no room for those who don’t identify as their biological sex,” according to UD’s website.
According to Chang, the university has also established a committee to determine how to best implement a “chosen name” policy. By allowing individuals to use a preferred first name on university documents, such as student IDs, and in official university communications, she says UD would further its mission to create an institution that is “attentive to and inclusive of the LGBTQ+ student experience.”
Chang attributes much of the university’s effort to continuously develop new ways of supporting sexual and gender minorities to the advocacy of its thriving LGBTQ+ population. “LGBTQ+ student organizations … have done an excellent job building awareness and community on campus for a number of years,” she says, adding that UD is home to several popular LGBTQ+ affinity and ally groups for students and employees, such as the recently established affinity group for Jewish LGBTQ+ students. “The vibrancy of [this] community is largely credited to our active and engaged students.”
In fall 2015, UD created a staff position — LGBT program coordinator — to serve as a liaison between sexual and gender minority students and campus leadership. This person is responsible for developing and implementing new events, programs, and services as needs arise, says Chang. This year, the university also established an LGBTQ+ Student Leadership Council to work closely with the program coordinator in addressing student needs. Already hard at work, the council has recently expressed interest in the development of an LGBTQ+ Resource Center on campus, Chang says.
University of Tulsa
At the University of Tulsa (TU), approximately 25 percent of the student body is international; these individuals come from more than 70 countries. The university’s internationally renowned petroleum engineering program is credited with attracting many of these individuals, as is TU’s reputation for going above and beyond to ensure that they feel welcome and supported on campus.
“I’ve worked here long enough that I get to see parents I knew as international students now sending their children to TU,” says Pamela A. Smith, dean of international services and programs. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see that a [previous] student had such a good experience that he or she wants their child to go here, and it speaks to the high level of support we provide our international students.”
Because the petroleum engineering program has made TU a popular destination for scholars from around the world since the 1940s, the university has long been a pioneer in developing new methods for meeting the needs of international students, Smith says. TU has developed a robust support system for them, including an Office of International Student Services (OISS).
“OISS is an international student’s first point of contact [with TU], so they know from the very beginning that there are people here who are trained and passionate about supporting them,” Smith says. “We take a lot of responsibility for these students and are constantly working to develop new programs and resources to address any needs that may arise.”
The university’s English Language Institute (ELI) offers these students the opportunity to hone their verbal and writing skills under the tutelage of faculty members who specialize in working with non-native speakers. Smith says some who have used the center’s services expressed a desire to have continued guidance from ELI instructors as they adjusted to the customs and expectations of an American university. In response, OISS created the International Student Success Center. “The center gives students a place to go for further academic support or to spend time with ELI instructors who are familiar with their needs and with whom they are comfortable,” Smith explains.
Beyond academic support, the university has cultivated a collective sense of responsibility for ensuring the cultural and social involvement of these individuals. OISS and the university’s Association of International Students (AIS) have partnered with TU Athletics, Dining Services, campus religious organizations, and other entities to conduct outreach and offer services to help ensure foreign students feel at home on TU’s campus.
“AIS works hand in hand with our office to provide opportunities that are not only good for international students, but also domestic students,” says Smith. “Even when it comes to something like playing a sport, incorporating the global perspectives that international students bring is an important aspect of the cultural experience here at TU.”
TU Athletics’ partnership with OISS and AIS has included hosting Football 101 events in which coaches and players introduce them to the concept of American college football. They also hold an annual soccer tournament with domestic and international students on the same teams, and players have to abide by soccer customs and regulations not typically observed in the U.S.
The benefits of being exposed to global viewpoints extends beyond TU’s campus, as AIS is actively involved with True Blue Neighbors (TBN), the university’s community service organization. Through TBN, international students are assigned to underserved elementary schools where they teach young people about their home countries through presentations and guided activities.
“These mutually beneficial interactions are exactly what we want to have happen when we bring foreign students to TU,” Smith says. “The international students love participating in the classrooms, and children who normally wouldn’t be exposed to other cultures are getting this opportunity from a very young age.”
Mariah Bohanon is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article was published in our January/February 2018 issue.