• Lillie Burke

Belmont’s Welcome Home Team promotes diversity on campus

One Belmont committee is dedicated to debunking the myth that Belmont is not a diverse university.

The Welcome Home Team is a group comprised of faculty, students and senior leadership who meet biweekly with the purpose of planning ways to increase diversity on campus.

After presenting its initiatives at a Feb. 23 meeting, the WHT felt as though the university as a whole was unaware of the organization’s current progress, said Dr. Susan West, the vice president and chief of staff.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where we would say we’ve arrived,” she said. “Obviously, we want our racial and ethnic diversity to be indicative of the real world and Belmont to be a microcosm of the real world. We’ve made great strides though.”

The current target of the WHT is the “recruitment and retention of African American students,” West said.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the makeup of Belmont was about 81 percent caucasian, 4.2 percent Hispanic-Latino and 4 percent African American, according to the common data set done by the Office of Assessment and Institutional Research.

“That’s not to say that paradigm won’t shift. I think it will. I think we’ll get to a point where we’re looking at other racial and ethnic groups,” she said.

A private consultant came to Belmont’s campus in 2010 to suggest ways to improve racial and ethnic diversity. This was one of the campuses first steps toward increasing diversity on campus, West said.

Using some of the suggestions from the consultant as well as new ideas, the WHT has been dedicated to working on the diversity on campus officially since 2013.

The WHT created the website “Diversity and Global Engagement” as single location for the Belmont community to have easy access to diversity resources and view two tiers of initiatives WHT has implemented to promote diversity on campus. A third tier is currently in the works.

According to the Diversity and Global Engagement website, initiatives in the first tier include, but are not limited to

piloting a “Supplier Diversity Program” to help minority and women-owned businesses recruiting African American staff through email service and alumni networking establishing Bridges to Belmont creating additional online and orientation diversity training for staff

Increasing the diversity of the staff has been a top priority for the WHT, as diverse prospective students look at the types of staff when choosing colleges, said Director of Human Resources Sally McKay.

16.8 percent of Belmont employees represent minority groups, and the university has hired 50 minority employees in five years, according to a document McKay provided.

In student organizations, the Tier One initiatives have increased the number of minority-based groups from two to eight, served as catalyst for a Multicultural Council, included Chinese Cultural Club and Black Student Association and Hispanic Alliance in Preview and Be Belmont Days.

They have also provided a phone-a-thon with BSA calling prospective diverse students, according to the Diversity and Global Engagement website.

Hearing students’ concerns from the Vision 2020 Town Hall meeting, Belmont has been working on adding another minority group on campus.

Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically African American fraternity, has received approval to start on campus but is still waiting on national approval, West said. The fraternity would join historically African American sorority Delta Sigma Theta on campus.

According to the Diversity and Global Engagement website,Tier Two seeks to develop need- and academic-based scholarships like the Hearst and Ingram scholarships for minorities create a group of diverse graduate students to recruit other graduate students increase diverse adjunct faculty offer more diversity focused programs for faculty begin college preparation groups for diverse high school students

“It’s not just words, it’s lots of action. There’s a lot of personnel involved and quite a bit of funds involved as well,” said Mckay.

In the upcoming fiscal year, Belmont will have invested $3 million to recruit “potential diverse students from Metro Nashville public high schools” on a four year scholarship and three new staff positions to oversee the program, according to a document McKay provided.

The Bridges to Belmont program is now recruiting its third cohort, said West. Pearl Cohn, Whites Creek, Maplewood and Strafford are among the inner-city Metro public high schools part of the program.

Maplewood is part of the Belmont Distinguished Scholars program, which consists of high-achieving juniors that attend during the summer to study certain subjects.

Overall, whether it’s faculty, current students or prospective students, the WHT desires to create the safest and most comfortable atmosphere for all ethnicities, McKay said.

“We’re trying to be a welcoming place. That’s part of our mission and part of who we are as Christians,” said McKay. “We want to make sure that the campus is a place that not only recruits and hires new students, faculty and staff of color, but also that it is a welcoming place so they will want to stay here.”

To students who remain skeptical about the chances of increasing the state of diversity on campus, the WHT wants to reassure students that they have a plan in place, West said.

“We are working diligently to improve all the time. We have made significant improvement, but we continue to improve our diversity numbers,” said West. “We have dedicated individuals who take it very seriously, meeting on a regular basis to address these issues.”

Both West and McKay hope to hear student concerns and are open to any suggestions for the future.

“I hope if students have questions that they contact Susan’s office or my office. That’s why we’re here,” McKay said.

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