Retaining Diversity

Retaining Diversity

Conference explores what makes successful AHANA retention programs work

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Approximately 150 educators and students gathered on campus last week to learn about successful initiatives to help students of color complete their education - and the challenges these efforts face - at a two-day conference sponsored by the Office of AHANA Student Programs.

Representatives from institutions such as the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Northeastern and Fairfield universities, and Springfield College, as well as BC, attended "Models of Success: Retention of AHANA Students From Elementary Through College Years," held Oct. 21-22. In welcoming them, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, said he hoped the event would help them reflect on the importance of promoting racial and cultural diversity.

Conference participants gather around an exhibit presented by Cardinal Hayes High School of the Bronx, one of several displays highlighting successful AHANA retention programs. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
"I also hope you gain increased encouragement in your lives and in the work you do, to foster the education of AHANA students," said Fr. Leahy. "There is a great depth and breadth to the types of programs and activities being sponsored in education. Let us share, and learn from, what has worked."

Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin P. Duffy and Learning to Learn Director Daniel Bunch also offered their greetings, before Syracuse University Professor of Education Vincent Tinto and Frank Hale, distinguished university representative and consultant at Ohio State University, delivered lectures on the characteristics of educational environments.

Following the addresses, conference participants were invited to view displays of, and meet representatives or students from, nine model programs that provide academic and social support to students of color. Among them were the Gardner School Partnership and College Bound, both of which involve BC.

The next day opened with a presentation of research related to AHANA students and retention. Boisi Professor of Education George Madaus examined the impact of standardized testing on different ethnic groups, and the recent rise in high-stakes testing in many states.

"If you mandate a test, and link its consequences with an important decision," Madaus said, "theoretically, it bullies the school system into improving its test scores, and by extension, the schools. But this is an assumption based on fallible technology. Tests can give us valuable information, but they are not without error. So we need to more thoroughly monitor their full impact."

Harvard University Professor of Education and Social Policy Gary Orfield said demographic trends show a dramatic rise in Latino and other non-white populations in the United States. But a shift from need- to merit-based college financial aid, and court decisions which he said amounted to the re-segregation of schools, may result in less access to post-secondary education for students of color, especially Latinos.

Peter Kiang, an associate professor at UMass-Boston, described the outside influences confronting many Southeast Asian students. Family demands, discrimination and trauma they suffered as refugees often make it difficult for these students to adjust to the collegiate environment. Kiang said the academic program he directs has helped them do so by providing an academic context in which to explore their experiences.

An overwhelming number of graduates, Kiang added, said the program did not cause them to feel bitter about American society, debunking the idea that ethnic studies incite division and dissatisfaction.

The conference ended with an afternoon session in Gasson 100, at which AHANA Student Programs Director Donald Brown and staff outlined their office's successful approach to retention, and representatives of Northwestern University and the University of Maryland gave lectures.

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