African diaspora student center at hub of new UC Davis initiatives

Four African American students standing in front of brown-shingled house
Looking forward to the opening of the Center for African Diaspora Student Success are UC Davis students, left to right, Charrisha Hillery, a participant in the Linda Francis Alexander Scholars Program; Kamaal Thomas, the center's student assistant; Eyonna

A center for African diaspora students opening at the University of California, Davis, Oct. 26 is at the heart of a new model for supporting the recruitment and academic achievement of those historically underrepresented in higher education.

A comprehensive set of initiatives provides support for African American and African diaspora students from recruitment to graduation and links academic services with community building.

"We want to enhance the undergraduate experience for African American students," said UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. "We are taking a holistic approach to address students' needs and support them all the way through graduation."

The Center for African Diaspora Student Success will facilitate many services — including on-site tutoring, academic advising and mental health counseling — and serve as a community gathering place.

Center called a 'beacon of hope'

"The center is really going to be a beacon of hope for many African American students," said Mariah K. Watson, the first female African American president of the Associated Students of UC Davis.

The umbrella African-American Initiative — the first in the UC system to address both recruitment and retention — aims to grow and strengthen the pool of competitive African-American applicants; increase the number of admitted students who enroll at UC Davis; support their retention — and increase graduation rates.

In fall 2014, just 923, or 3.6 percent, of 25,581 UC Davis undergraduates from the United States identified themselves as African-American or black.

Supporting students, increasing graduation rates

At UC Davis, African American graduation rates are lower than those for all undergraduates (30 percent compared with 55 percent within four years, and 68 percent compared with 83 percent within six years).

Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, said the African American Initiative is among campus efforts to support the success of historically underrepresented groups and reduce the time necessary for all students to earn their degrees.

The campus is developing a recruitment and retention initiative for Chicano and Latino students, including a student success center opening in fall 2016. In spring 2016, it plans to hire a director of Native American retention initiatives who will help develop a plan for that population.

African-American Initiative

The African-American Initiative will collaborate with existing programs including long-established K-12 outreach programs such as the Early Academic Outreach Program; the Cross Cultural Center's African diaspora programming; and outreach, recruitment and retention efforts of the student-run African Diaspora Cultivating Education, or ACE.

New efforts include hiring staff dedicated to the recruitment and retention of African Americans; strengthening relationships with African diaspora alumni, faculty and community organizations; and expanding other programs.

"What distinguishes this initiative is that recruitment and retention are working together," said Milton Lang, associate vice chancellor for student life, campus community and retention services. "We are persuaded that the most effective recruitment tool is effective retention."

Retention initiatives

In November, UC Davis brought Kayton Carter on board as the campus's first director of strategic African American retention initiatives. Since then, he has been helping lead the effort to identify campus resources that support African American retention; share data to support student success; and research best practices locally and nationally.

Under the initiative, the new center will take on oversight of the Linda Francis Alexander Scholars Program, which provides academic, social and cultural enrichment for about 40 African diaspora students. It will be used to pilot a program for early identification of students' academic challenges and providing appropriate support.

Among other major activities, the campus will establish the African-American Scholars Program to offer, beginning next fall, a uniform suite of services for all African American students. Its goal is to support their transition to UC Davis and successful graduation.

UC Davis has already been selected to host a 2016 summit of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. About 300 education and community leaders, researchers and students will gather to identify and advance practices that support the development and success of African-American students.

Recruitment initiatives

Walter Robinson, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, said the initiative also aims to strengthen and expand existing K-12 and college outreach programs, community partnerships, and relationships with parents and alumni.

Earlier this month, UC Davis added an urban partnerships specialist to focus on recruitment at Southern California high schools and community colleges with a high concentration of African Americans and other underrepresented populations.

Among other new activities:

  • The campus began partnering last spring with Umoja — a program that fosters the success of African Americans at 25 California community colleges — to promote programs that help students transfer to UC Davis. The university will be a primary sponsor of Umoja's statewide conference in Oakland Nov. 6 and 7.
  • UC Davis is launching an African American community newsletter to update school counselors as well as community organizations on campus resources and programs serving African Americans.
  • The campus is also strengthening its relationships with 5A, its African, African-American Alumni Association. The university is inviting members to host more receptions for admitted students in their homes and engage with students at campus events.

More on the center and leadership

The center's physical space reflects its emphasis on academic success. Located in refurbished space on the second floor of the South Silo, the center includes computer stations, workshop and meeting space, study areas, and offices for advising and counseling. Faculty will be invited to talk about their research and hold office hours at the center.

Kawami Evans, who started this month as associate director of strategic African American retention initiatives, will lead the center. About five students will be hired as peer mentors.

More than eight African diaspora student organizations participated in meetings about the center, and student voices will continue to be represented through an advisory body being established.

Senior Theodore Mitchell, who coordinates programming for the African diaspora community at the campus's Cross Cultural Center, participated in the planning.

"It's a good step toward addressing some of the historical disparities and inequities in higher education," said the clinical nutrition major from Los Angeles.

Other student centers

Last fall, UC Davis opened the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, and the School of Law established a pilot legal services center for undocumented students at seven UC campuses.

Other UC Davis student centers include the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual Resource Center; the Women's Resources and Research Center; the Transfer, Reentry and Veterans Center; and the Cross Cultural Center.

Related information

Media Resources

Julia Ann Easley, General news (emphasis: business, K-12 outreach, education, law, government and student affairs), 530-752-8248,

Milton Lang, Student Affairs, 530-752-8787,

Walter Robinson, Student Affairs

Mariah Watson, Associated Students of UC Davis, (310) 227-0775,

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