MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin saw an increase in enrollment for underrepresented students this past semester, with African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and Alaskan student populations all seeing increased numbers.
The African-American student population was the largest since fall of 2015, with 875 students enrolled at the university, and other underrepresented populations were the largest in the past 10 years. UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver feels this increase is because of the university’s dedication to creating a diverse campus atmosphere.
“We have put a focus on diverse student programs over the past few semesters, and our new hires in the Office of Student Life and Multicultural Affairs have done an excellent job including all our student populations in their choice of campus events and outreach,” said Carver. “Diversity is also a key component in the university’s new strategic plan, and while we still have improvements to make, I feel we are moving in a good direction.”
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions has worked closely with the UT Martin Black Alumni Council, based in Shelby County, to increase and improve student recruitment efforts in that area. A popular event is the Red Carpet Day, which welcomes students from underrepresented populations to campus for a weekend visit each fall.
“We make sure to incorporate our current students within that programming so (attendees) can actually have that first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be an underrepresented student here at UTM,” said John Blue, director of the Office of Student Life and Multicultural Affairs.
Blue and his assistant director, Anthony Prewitt, are also working with the student body to start the university’s first Hispanic/Latino student organization. Blue says student activities this past semester worked to expand on current offerings for underrepresented students and included the university’s first observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. His office is also partnering with the UT Martin Women’s Center and the Office of International Programs and International Admissions to make sure those student groups are included in campus programming as well.
“It’s a known fact that students from underrepresented populations relate better to students, faculty and staff and amenities that look like them. … So (relevant student programming is) also a big factor in the retention of students,” said Prewitt. “We wanted to be very intentional in providing programs, leadership opportunities and other initiatives that develop those students, that encourage their participation in campus activities and expose them to a lot of different things.”
Blue and Prewitt facilitate the Black Student Mentoring Collaborative across campus to provide a framework through which African-American students can create mentoring relationships with African American faculty and staff members across campus. This idea was originally created by John Paul Robinson, a former coordinator in the Office of Student Life.
“The Black Student Mentoring Collaborative assists with retention of our currently enrolled students. I’m a firm believer that your current students are your best means of recruitment, so if they feel like they are valued and are seen on campus, then they’re going to go home to Nashville or Memphis or Jackson and talk about UTM in a positive manner,” said Blue.
A new multicultural student council is also in the works and will be in charge of planning both social and educational events focused on multicultural affairs in semesters to come. Blue says this group will seek to enlighten the student body by bringing an extra-curricular component to learning about the various populations represented on campus.
Both Blue and Prewitt say the university’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion can be seen in the way upper administration approaches the student body and student programming.
“I think it really helps us that we have a chancellor who is an advocate for our area and our office. The fact that he’s even included the diversity and multicultural component within the strategic plan is big,” said Prewitt. “He’s here, he’s visible, he’s supportive of our students. … That type of presence and support matters. … Whether it’s in residence life, Greek life or campus (recreation), it’s important that students are engaged, they’re involved and that they feel supported.”
The university hosted the fourth-annual Black Graduate Recognition Ceremony the night before fall commencement. More than 75 African-American students were eligible to graduate this past semester, and Blue and Prewitt seek to have that number increase each year.
For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at 731-881-7615.