Kamaria’s Reflections on Minority Serving Institution Symposium

IMG_3912Seeing my older sister attend Clark Atlanta University gave me an early impression of Minority Serving Institutions as higher education institutions dedicated to holistic formation for students of color. At CAU my stepsister developed as an athlete, experimented with different majors, grew as a leader, and explored other aspects of her identity, particularly gender. The strong foundation she built at CAU reverberates through her life now as a collegiate tennis coach and mentor for students. Her experiences at a Historically Black University expanded my early conceptions of what college meant, including academic, personal, and spiritual growth.

Those themes flowed through the presentations at the Minority Serving Institutions Symposium. Our opening presenters, Jeremiah Thompson and Dr. Jaime Chahin, highlighted how MSIs have a distinctive approach to the personal formation of students. Sharing his experiences attending predominantly White institutions, Mr. Thompson reminded us of the unwelcoming and racist messages Native American students still encounter. At Tribal Colleges, Native American students can engage a course of study in an environment dedicated to enriching their cultural knowledge and identity. The educational environments at MSIs, steeped in a cultural heritage and curiosity, encourage students of color to grew in their various identities. Faculty and campus administrators of color, uniquely positioned and motivated to promote student success, foster this process.

Dr. Chahin provided a fascinating case study of how intentional leadership transformed Texas Status University into a thriving Hispanic Serving Institution. Through incentives for faculty to create culturally aligned courses and promoting student voice to suggest new activities, Texas State grew into a culturally defined institution. I resonated with Dr. Chahin’s description of the mission of HIS, particularly Texas State, to facilitate and encourage students in building a solid foundation to go forth to the workforce or graduate school with a firm sense of their identity.

Transforming institutions to truly serve students of color requires leadership to motivate actors at different levels to change curriculum, mission, and the environment. Many of the research papers highlighted the challenges of creating and maintaining MSIs. Access to resources, accreditation guidelines, and changes in enrollment at MSIs complicate the ability of institutional actors to enrich and maintain the mission of serving students of color. Our closing session with Dr. JoAnn Canales demonstrated how an intentional focus on holistic development and cultural heritage promoted student growth and success. The symposium provided an opportunity to build a community of research and practice around Minority Serving Institutions. These conversations should continue to investigate the ways MSIs foster cultural wealth at the organizational level and envision strategies to enrich and support these institutions.

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