by Greg Allen
When President Mary-Beth Cooper was hired at Springfield College in 2013, she developed a strategic plan to improve the college. That plan had five main points, one of them focusing on improving diversity and inclusion on campus.
According to Dr. Calvin Hill, Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement and the 2015-16 Springfield College Fact Book, 81.1 percent of Springfield College undergraduates identified as white, and the first-year student class consisted of just 80 African-American, Latino, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) students.
In just his second year at the helm of the inclusion and community engagement office, Hill and Springfield College have seen that number jump to its highest point in the history of the institution.
According to the 2016-2017 Springfield College Fact Book, the first-year class has 115 ALANA students enrolled.
“It’s beyond any of our expectations,” Hill said. “We can’t check off the box and say that we are completely done. However, I think we have done a good job creating a model, and we want to make sure that model will be successful moving forward.”
Hill believes the number of ALANA students has increased for a number of reasons. Recruitment is at the top of the list. Springfield College has begun a new recruitment strategy known as cohort recruiting—a method that recruits multiple students from the same high school.
Part of making this method successful is building relationships with certain schools. This year, many first-year students are from Hartford due to the connections the college has made with high schools in the area.
“If we can get five or 10 students from a specific school, they come on board and already know people,” Hill said. “So they feel a sense of connection already. You no longer have that sense of isolation.”
Recruiting ALANA students, and getting them to attend Springfield is only half the battle, however. Retaining them and having them complete four years is the difficult part. One strategy Hill and administrators are trying to help retain students is educating professors on how to incorporate issues of social justice into the curriculum.
“To be on a campus that values diversity and talks about social justice issues in classrooms really adds value to you education,” Hill said.
The college is also making an effort to hire more faculty from diverse backgrounds. Hill believes this is beneficial for not only ALANA students, but for students of majority groups as well.
“When a student sees a faculty member who looks like them, it makes them feel that they can accomplish what the professor has accomplished,” Hill said. “When a student from a majority background sees a professor who looks different from them, it provides an opportunity for them to learn and see things from a perspective that’s different from their own.”
Having a diverse campus with students and faculty of multiple different backgrounds helps prepare students for what they will most likely experience in the real world. Upon graduating from this microcosm on Alden Street, there will be people who look and think differently.
“To be on a campus that values diversity and talks about social justice issues in classrooms really adds value to your education and prepares you for a bigger world,” Hill said. “It’s really about creating a climate where everyone can be successful. It’s about trying to create a family, and I think that’s what we’re all about here.”