By Irene Rotondo
Last month, Springfield College held a series called “Conversations On Race” brought forth in light of the Black Lives Matter movement to discuss diversity and racism within the Springfield College community.
Tuesday, July 7, marked the fourth installment of “Conversations On Race” and kicked off the July series with about 100 participants in attendance at the 6:30 p.m. Zoom meeting.
Robert Gordon, Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment, and Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement Calvin Hill, led the discussion.
The main topic covered how race relates to Springfield College’s admissions processes, along with exactly what the college has been doing to ensure diversity from the pool of students accepted into programs.
To begin, Gordon introduced himself as head of the undergraduate admissions process and explained what his role entailed. His full recruitment territory includes Springfield, Worcester, and the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts, and Hartford, New Haven, and parts of Fairfield in Connecticut. Gordon also added that he recruits students from Puerto Rico.
After introductions, Dr. Hill posed the first prepared question from a list those leading the conversation that night had created prior to the meeting.
“Has the college seen progress in the last five years in reference to the number of ALANA (African, Latinx, Asian, and Native American) students admitted and then attending Springfield College?” Hill asked Gordon.
Gordon stated that though change is happening, it has been a gradual process rather than an abrupt or radical decision. Speaking numerically, Gordon said the ALANA population at Springfield College has increased over the past five years, but actually has doubled since the year 2000.
“Growing and improving all of our processes the last 20 years, we can report that this incoming [first-year] class is made up of 20 percent ALANA-identifying students, which is a huge win for us… that’s about 130 students who identify themselves as ALANA who will be joining us this fall,” said Gordon.
Another step in diversifying the student population is making Springfield College a test-optional school, which the college has done for almost all of its programs. This gives ALANA students the same opportunities in college that white students inherently have.
ALANA students statistically have lower test scores because of disparities in the elementary and high school education system due to severe systemic racism. By making programs test-optional, more ALANA students may be interested in applying to Springfield College and knowing that they will receive an equal educational opportunity.
The next prepared question was about what Springfield College does to engage Springfield public school students. Though Gordon said that it was difficult to recruit students from the surrounding city simply because many rising students prefer to look at schools far away from their homes, he also said that Springfield College’s efforts to recruit high school students were not in vain.
“Just to give some numbers, we visit about 11 schools in the city of Springfield every single year,” said Gordon. “In addition to visiting 11 schools in Springfield once, we visit six of those schools a second time, and those are just opportunities that exist between college fairs, instant decision days… we do a lot of really great work in that capacity, in the admissions office.”
The final prepared question brought forth by Dr. Hill was about what types of financial literacies are applied to ALANA students to ensure a fulfilling college experience. Gordon said that Springfield College is unique in the capacity of offering financial aid to all students and spelling it out cleanly for families to easily understand.
Once a financial aid package is awarded for a student of color, a form detailing financial literacy along with a statement of the financial award is mailed to the student and the admissions office is available for phone calls concerning awards.
Gordon stated that even though the list of applicants for this specific type of financial aid is long, the admissions office tries to accommodate each student.
Following the final prepared question, the rest of the Zoom meeting was opened up to the floor for participants to engage both Hill and Robert as well as Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement Kathleen Martin, Vice President for Enrollment Management Stuart Jones, and Dean of Admissions Mary DeAngelo in any questions they may have.
Nikki, a rising junior, asked, “Do you find that programs, such as ‘Partners,’ increase our numbers of diversity in enrolling students?” Gordon stated that he believed community-based programs, such as “Partners.” was important and helpful in making “Springfield College” a household name in the city of Springfield and making it an option for citizens to attend.
Dr. Hill also added, “We really want students to be able to dream, and dreaming about college is something that is absolutely critical to eventually getting them to enroll.”
Another participant-based statement was how Springfield College’s faculty consists primarily of white professors and almost no POC. This was thought to be a large factor in why the retention rate for ALANA students is not as high as the college would like it to be; students want to see someone who they know has had similar life experiences and they can relate to, and they do not get that experience on campus.
Dr. Hill said, “It is absolutely critical that if we have the opportunity to hire someone who looks like a change of demographics coming to our campus, it’s critical from both the standpoint of the recruitment piece [and] the retention piece… we obviously want those future alums to be meaningfully engaged back with the college.”
A list of suggestions piled up in the chat box and in participant’s questions, ranging from reaching out to students who chose to not attend Springfield College and asking them why, to scholarships for Black students commemorating George Floyd, to targeting parents on recruitment for their children, and many, many more.
President Mary-Beth Cooper invited anyone who had suggestions or solutions to contact the leaders present at the meeting and let them know what changes the community thought should be made.
Student Trustee Kris Rhim ended the meeting with words of encouragement to his fellow classmates to attend the next meeting where they would not be hearing “staged, prepared answers; statistics that we don’t really want to hear” from the President and her leadership team.
Next Tuesday evening, “Conversations On Race” will consist of a candid conversation between students and administration. Rhim urged the audience to attend for answers to the questions they still have not gotten.
Graphic courtesy of Jack Margaros