Sept. 26, 2018
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — A new report from the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center has identified Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) as one of the top public institutions in the nation for serving black students well.

MCLA, along with Kentucky’s University of Louisville and the University of California-San Diego, achieved the top score of 3.5. With an average score of 2.8, Massachusetts had the highest ranking of all states. The report marks the first time that the United States’ public, four-year universities and all 50 states were graded using federal data.

MCLA President James F. Birge, Ph.D, said he is encouraged by the report as it indicates that the College’s focus on enhancing its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is having positive results for students. He credited the campus’s faculty and staff, who have made an intentional commitment to creating a more inclusive environment on campus.

However, “MCLA is not an institution defined by students’ statistics. Rather, we are an institution defined by students’ stories and for too many students this ranking does not reflect their stories,” Birge said. “We at MCLA have much more to do when it comes to retaining and graduating students from under-represented populations.”

Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, chief diversity officer at MCLA, added, “While we are thrilled to be recognized for the steps we have taken to create an equitable campus, we see this recognition as a call to action and further impetus for infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do.”

According to North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard, “MCLA’s recognition by the University of Southern California's Center on Race and Equity is the result of focused, intentional, and sustained work on the part of the college's students, staff, faculty, administration and trustees. It is a testament to the College’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and is a point of pride for the campus and the city alike.”

To create the report, the Race and Equity Center pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to measure the following:

-        Whether an institution’s percentage of black undergraduates matches the overall black population, ages 18 to 24, in that university’s home state.

-        If a college or university enrolls the same percentage of black men and women as the percentage of men and women across all racial and ethnic groups nationwide, which is  approximately 56 percent women and 44 percent men.

-        The extent to which black students graduate from a university within six years, and if it matches an institution’s overall graduation rate.

-        The ratio of black students to black full-time professors.

The Center assigned a letter grade, A through F, for each of the four benchmarks, and then used those grades to calculate an “equity index score” for each university. Each institution’s score was averaged to calculate the overall state score.

Earlier this month, MCLA was named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Nation’s Top Ten Public Liberal Arts Colleges for 2019. Among the multiple indicators U.S. News and World Report considers are increased graduation rates and social mobility.

New this year, U.S. News and World Report factored a school’s success at promoting social mobility by graduating students who received federal Pell Grants – those typically coming from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, although most Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000.

Scores for the new social mobility indicators were then adjusted by the proportion of the entering class that was awarded Pell Grants because achieving a higher low-income student graduation rate is more challenging with a larger proportion of low-income students.

From 2012 to 2016, MCLA increased the six-year graduation gap for African-American students, from 33 percent to 56 percent. In 2016, the six-year rate for the entire Massachusetts State University System was 51 percent, meaning that MCLA outperformed this group by 5 percent. In addition, 30 percent of this year’s incoming, first-year undergraduates in the Class of 2022 are students of color, an increase of 5 percent from last year.

“We are an institution defined by students’ stories”

On Saturday, Sept. 22, Ama Bemma Adwetewa-Badu ’15 and W. David Halbert ’03 – both black alumni of the College – were honored by the (MCLA) Alumni Association at its Annual Alumni Award Ceremony.  Adwetewa-Badu received the Young Alumni Award, and the Alumni Humanitarian Award went to Halbert.

After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in early childhood education from MCLA, Adwetewa-Badu received her master’s degree in English from Clark University in 2017. Now a second-year Ph.D student at Cornell University, her research focuses on the intersection of politics and aesthetics as articulated through avant-garde poetics, 20th/21st-century Anglophone poetry, and 20th/21st-century Anglophone Black diasporic literature and culture, especially poetry.

Adwetewa-Badu has presented papers at several conferences, including the African Literature Association Conferences and the Northeast Modern Language Association Conferences.

Halbert graduated from MCLA with a bachelor’s degree in English/communications, and went on to earn a Master of Public Administration from Northeastern University in Boston. He also obtained two graduate certificates from Northeastern, one in public policy analysis and another in nonprofit sector, philanthropy and social change.

His work experience includes working as a scheduler in the office of former Gov. Deval Patrick, and a position with Trans Metro Media as an executive vice president of government and community affairs. Halbert went on to work at the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, where he now serves as deputy director of community affairs. His community service includes serving as the affirmative action and outreach chair for the Boston Ward One Democratic Committee. In addition, he was made a member of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education for two years after his graduation, and was a recipient of the Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities award.

Ongoing initiatives

MCLA is closing the gap in four-year graduation rates between students of color and the general cohort as a result of multiple initiatives.

Earlier this year, the campus – in a regional partnership with Berkshire Community College (BCC) and Pittsfield Public Schools – began work in a pilot phase to develop MassTeach, which will build upon MCLA’s work to promote STEM education and support minority students. This includes the College’s Strengthening Institutions Program, funded by nearly $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

MassTeach is a new model that aims to increase and diversify the ranks of educators prepared to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in high-need school districts. The program is the result of a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE).

Previously, the U.S. Department of Education recognized MCLA as one of 13 institutions nationally for graduating students from low-income families at the same rate as students from high-income families. Then, public and private nonprofit colleges were highlighted in the U.S. Department of Education’s report, “Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need,” which identified institutions that are doing well to enroll and graduate low-income students.

Upcoming events

On Thursday, Nov. 8, MCLA will hold an inaugural event, the “MCLA Day of Dialogue: Complicating Race,” a campus-wide initiative created to encourage discussion and thought surrounding topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. Both day and evening classes will be suspended the entire day, so that all students and faculty may participate.

To top off this “Day of Dialogue,” best-selling author, journalist, and comic book writer Ta-Nehisi Coates will present the Eighth Annual Michael S. and Kitty Dukakis Public Policy Lecture, at 7 p.m. in the MCLA Campus Center Gym.

At this public policy lecture, Coates will read from and participate in a moderated conversation about his book, “Between the World and Me,” which was called “essential, like water or air,” by A.O. Scott of The New York Times.

“Between the World and Me,” a 2015 No. 1 New York Times bestseller, was required or recommended reading at over 400 colleges and universities across the country and at MCLA. Structured as a letter to his teenage son, it moves from Baltimore to Howard University to New York City to Paris, addressing what it means to inhabit an African American body in today’s America.

This lecture, which is made possible through the generosity of the Ruth E. Proud Charitable Trust, is free and open to the public. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to arrive early to insure seating. This lecture also will be simulcast in the Sullivan Lounge, in the Amsler Campus Center.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth's public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.​

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