Hanover College is making gains in its push for student diversity
Monday, January 28, 2013 10:00 AM
When Mike Cledanor first stepped out of his car and saw the Hanover College campus, he experienced a culture shock like he never had before.
Templeton Scholars Daquisha Jones, left, and Tessa Dean attend a statistics class at Hanover College. The Templeton Scholars program is designed to provide an opportunity for students to attend Hanover College. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Monica Green, Hanover College associate director of admissions and director of the Benjamin Templeton Scholarship Program, said it is not only important to recruit a diverse student body, but also to retain those students all the way through to graduation.
Taran McZee, Hanover College director of multicultural affairs and international programs, said the college could not have had the success it has seen in the last four years if there was not a top-down commitment to diversity.
"I'm from Miami, Fla.," he said. "I just came to play football and coming from Miami, I don't know, maybe I just closed my eyes to it a little bit. In Miami, there's diversity everywhere."
At the start of Cledanor's freshman year, 90 percent of the student body at Hanover was Caucasian. Now - because of new initiatives and programs instituted by the college - the school reports that 21 percent of students are members of a minority, and enrollment for African American students has increased more than 50 percent in four years.
Two of the chief architects of the new push to recruit and retain a more diverse student population are Taran McZee, director of multicultural affairs, and Monica Green, associate director of admissions.
McZee compared how he and Green work together to basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
"She's Kobe," he said. "She brings them in. She gets them here and when she feeds them to me, I dunk it in."
The Benjamin Templeton Scholarship
One of the ways Green is able to bring in a greater mix of students is with the Benjamin Templeton Scholarship.
The scholarship honors students with high academic marks that have worked in their high schools and communities to bridge gaps between economically, socially and racially diverse groups.
"It's a program that gives full tuition scholarships to students who participate in activities that address diversity, social justice and tolerance in high school," Green said. "It's not a scholarship that's based on students being a minority. We have a majority students who are Templeton Scholars."
The school currently has 21 Templeton Scholars enrolled, and looks to add another 10 to 12 next year.
Student have to meet several requirements beyond a high grade-point average to keep the scholarship, including 28 hours of community service each semester, required study hours each week, involvement in a school group and weekly meetings with a mentor.
Daquisha Jones of Indianapolis is a Templeton Scholar. When the 20-year-old sophomore, who wants to be a political science major, first applied for the scholarship, she didn't know that it was specifically for Hanover students.
"It was really funny," she said. "I didn't even know I had to apply to the school."
Jones said that everything the Templeton Scholarship requires of her has been tough at times, but she likes the direction it provides for her.
"There is a lot. I'm grateful and there's a lot of money that comes with it as well, so if they track my grades, I can't be too bitter about it," Jones said. "I wouldn't be able to afford school without it."
Jones' high school guidance counselor was the person that suggested applying to Hanover. It was Green's recruitment that sold her on coming to Hanover.
"Monica was very much a part of my recruitment," Jones said. "We spoke to her several times. My mom and Monica spoke a lot over the phone and became fast friends. I had a lot of concerns about diversity before I came. She told me I could also help change the face of Hanover. She had a lot to do with it."
Retention and recruitment
In the four years since Hanover began its push toward a more diverse student population, retention rates have raised more than 90 percent.
"Our motto is, she gets them here and I keep them here. We've stuck with that since she first got here and it works for us," McZee said.
Green attributed the school's success to how students are recruited.
"For me, it's not just about bodies in the room," she said. "I came from Vanderbilt University. There we had an extremely selective process, it wasn't just about 'Oh you fit this mold, come here.' The understanding that, not only do we want students of color, but we want students of color that can survive and thrive within our community."
Green and McZee said that some people on the outside looking in at Hanover believe the school had to create easier entrance standards for diversity rates to increase.
"Our professors aren't going to lower standards," McZee said. "We're not going to dumb down the curriculum just to bring in a bunch of students of color."
He said finding the right students for Hanover has been one of the keys to the college's growth. But once the students are there, making sure they have a support system is what keeps them enrolled.
Marcus El is a senior sociology major and theology minor from Indianapolis. He said Green and McZee have been a big part of his time at Hanover.
"No matter what, you can always talk to one of them about something that's going on," El said. "Having them to have your back, someone who's been through it and can talk about it, that's always a good thing to have."
Keeping students like El enrolled has been something that Green and McZee have taken to heart.
"What we take pride in is making sure those students stay here and they actually get Hanover College degrees," McZee said. "This will be the biggest class of students of color at Hanover College. Probably ever.
"It's a long road getting those students here, from their maturity level to their academics to their social life. It took some tears in order to get them there, but they're all lined up to graduate and I'm proud of each and every one of them."
Green added that that kind of investment is something that many young people require as they enter college.
"Yes, it did take all that, but that's not different from what it takes a lot of other students in general. I think one of biggest factors in that, is that between Taran and I there is accountability. You can't come in my office and tell me a story and say I didn't go to class for this reason, this reason and this reason. Especially when I went to college. I understand why you didn't go to class."
Hanover has another advantage when it comes to retention: Its size.
The student body at Hanover College is currently 1,075. According to El, knowing most of your classmates is something that just happens because there aren't as many of them.
"You know everybody. You can't get away with not knowing everybody," he said. "At a bigger school, if you walk into a place like the student center without friends, you're eating alone. It's not like that here."
The friendliness is something that took Jones, the Templeton Scholar, by surprise as well.
"I was initially impressed how well and easy it was for me to fit in," she said. "I was aware of my color and aware I was a minority. I was surprised I fit in so well and made so many friends so easily."
Changing the culture on campus
With the changes made to the student body, the school also started making changes to events on campus.
Before McZee's and Green's time, the school only celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day; now they have a week dedicated to celebrating the civil rights leader. Hanover has also introduced events for Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Week, Women's History Month and the Chinese New Year. The school also hosts an international banquet that features international dishes, music and performances by international and American students.
"Hanover was ready to have more people here, to have a more diverse student body," Green said. "Not just students of color. We've got kids from all over the country, all over the world from different walks of life. This next group of kids that we bring in is probably going to be the most geographically diverse. The next Templeton class will definitely be geographically diverse."
In his first year, McZee said that some faculty members felt like they needed to be guarded around students of color.
"It was one of those things where I would get a phone call saying 'Hey I need you to talk to a student about this' and I'd say 'Well why didn't you talk to that student about this?' No, there's no difference in talking to a human being. It has nothing to do with skin color," he said. "I wouldn't say it was an uphill battle, but it was a bit of an unknown. They had to see it work."
McZee said that hasn't been an issue since his first year.
He also gives credit to Hanover College President Sue DeWine.
"The stream doesn't run uphill, the stream runs downhill. If we didn't have support from her we wouldn't succeed," McZee said.
Green added that the multicultural program has been challenged and pushed to grow.
"Hanover has made the investment in us. When we want to grow, we are allowed to grow, we are challenged to grow," she said.