STORRS, Conn. (AP) — The University of Connecticut is creating a community for black men inside a new dorm on its campus, following the lead of some other predominantly white schools in an effort to boost low graduation and retention rates among male African-American students.
As many as 43 students, expected to be mostly freshmen and sophomores, will live together and receive specialized social, academic and career-development support.
"We really want a wrap-around approach to make sure that we are creating an optimal environment where these young men can achieve excellence," said Erik Hines, a UConn professor and the faculty director for the ScHOLAR2RS House.
The announcement comes in the wake of student protests across the nation last year demanding more racial sensitivity on college campuses, including ethnic living spaces.
The University of Iowa last month announced that in response to its students' concerns it would open up a similar learning community "Young, Gifted and Black," for first-year students. The University of Minnesota has had a program for four years, also located on one floor of a dormitory on its twin-cities campus.
The programs are designed to be more comprehensive than minority-based student organizations or fraternities on most campuses.
UConn's ScHOLAR2RS House will be open to anyone interested in the African-American experience, whether or not they are black, Hines said. The program will include special classes and research opportunities through faculty mentorships, peer mentoring and social trips off campus.
The students will be living in a new dormitory, set to open in the fall of 2016, with about 700 other students who are in other learning communities — such as one for women who are engineering, math or science majors and another for students interested in ecology and environmental protection.
Shakeer Abdullah, Minnesota's assistant vice president for equity and diversity, said since the establishment of his school's community, The Huntley House in 2012, grades among its residents have improved. He said it has also helped combat what is known as "onlyness," where a black man on campus frequently finds himself the only African-American member of a social or academic circle and is unfairly asked to represent his race.
"They get a chance to come back to the Huntley House and exhale," he said. "They get to realize 'I do belong here. Here's a strong group of folks who look like me, have experiences like me and we get to work through these things.'"
At UConn, there are about 580 African-American men out of about 21,000 undergraduates on the rural campus in Storrs. Their graduation rate is about 55 percent, compared to 81 percent of all male students and 83 percent of all UConn undergraduates.
Anthony Matthews, a junior from Hartford, said often just one or two other black men are in his computer science and engineering classes. He said that can be isolating and he would welcome a place where he could spend more time with other people who have a similar background and experiences.
"When you're surrounded with peers and you're all doing good, it makes you feel like you're part of something larger," he said.