Black Student Excellence: Chapman Pushes Student Success
By Dianne Anderson
One way for Black students to beat social isolation at predominantly white colleges is the opposite of standing far off from the center of attention.
Misty Levingston, recently appointed director of Black Excellence and Achievement at Chapman University, said one of her first moves toward diversity awareness was pulling together Black students to the center of gravity of campus activity — the student union.
It was invigorating, if not liberating.
She just happened to see a wide-open couch, and thought it a perfect opportunity for Black students to sit down and connect with each other. It was the ideal place to create space to be themselves, take pictures and smile.
“I see students sprinkled, not gathering together,” she said. “Literally, the whole premise of the event was to sit in the student union with other Black folks so they can know it’s okay to sit in the middle of the student union with other Black folks.”
Black students can go an entire day and only occasionally see others that look like them in passing, but often not in class.
One exception is at the Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. In her recent orientation for students and families, she learned that it has a good representation of incoming Black students surveyed that were part of the college.
Levingston’s goal in working closely with Dr. Reginald “Reg” Chhen Stewart, VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, is about building a community at the university where Black students feel supported.
Last week, she attended the BSU meeting for the first time, where she saw a vibrant engaged group of students. Before Levingston came on last fall, students had expressed interest in the Divine 9, and identified Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kapa Alpha as their top choices in a survey.
The Black Excellence and Achievement center and DEI office are now in talks with the fraternity.
Last Friday, the local Alpha Phi Alpha also co-hosted its Black Family Homecoming event with the DEI office, and the center. In the weeks and months ahead, the center and DEI are focused on getting students prepared emotionally and mentally for the real world.
They are working toward a Black excellence retreat focused on best practices for student success, examining theoretical perspectives on Black cultural identity.
“We’re having someone come in to talk about career and time management, working with career development to do resume and elevator speeches, working skills, working with the student government,” she said. “I think students should see Black students working in student government.”
The DEI office is also collaborating with an inclusive employment night to bring in employers looking to hire a diversity of students, she added, as their university is also strengthening outreach to recruit more Black students to campus.
Their first Black Family Homecoming Weekend last week is hoped to be an annual event for students, family and alumni friends. On Sunday, they held a Black family breakfast with an interfaith prayer service.
It’s all about building up community for Black students on campus.
“I’m trying to connect so that they can say hey Misty and I can say their name back, that’s so important with students staying or leaving the university. I want them to feel connected,” said Levingston, a doctoral candidate in organizational leadership in educational studies.
Shannon Thurmond, director of intake representing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.- Nu Tau Lambda of Orange County, hopes to get their chapter on campus sometime next year.
The group responded to the call from young Black men on the campus who wanted membership in their fraternity. But, bringing the chapter is an intense process, requiring a lot of paperwork at the district, regional and national levels within their organization.
“We are the first of all collegiate Black Greek organizations founded at the University of Cornell back in 1906. It would be a pleasure to be the first one on this [Chapman] campus as well. They’ve never had a historically Black fraternity on the campus,” he said.
So far, the fraternity has held informational events. Over the weekend, the brothers came far and wide to perform a step show and stroll for all to share in the excitement.
“Us old men don’t do that,” Thurmond laughs, “But the young college kids on campuses, a few of them come down and do a little stepping and strolling just to get people excited that we’re headed for the campus, God willing, sometime in 2023.”
Some Chapman faculty members and staff have been supportive of bringing the chapter on campus. In the long run, he said it leads to more diversity, and creates a strong circle to support the retention and graduation of Black students.
If they have their young brothers on campus, he said they are sure to hold voter drives, and Black History Month events that will lead to support more incoming Black freshmen.
“Potentially they could be working with local high schools. There are a variety of things to create good community and synergy that Black fraternities and sororities add to a campus,” he said.
For more information, see https://www.chapman.edu