Resources Rescinding for African American Students

By Brianna Gleghorn

Resources for African American students at Youngstown State University have been decreasing in past years and the issue has only accelerated with faculty retiring and leaving.

With several faculty members gone, multiple events have gone unplanned or left in the hands of faculty with no direction.

The position of director of Africana studies was left open from August 2018 until January 2019. There has not been a director of student inclusion and engagement or associate vice president of multicultural affairs since both faculty members retired in June 2018.

The common solution to solve the decreasing resources is to bring on three new positions at the university: associate provost for diversity and inclusion, associate provost for teaching and learning and assistant director of diversity programs.

Cryshanna Jackson Leftwich, acting chair of the Department of Politics and International Relations, was put in charge of organizing events for Black History Month 2019.

“My real qualification is I’m a black faculty member,” Jackson Leftwich said. “If we don’t [put on the event], then we just won’t have any Black History Month programming because there’s no other department at the university designated to do that.”

This event is usually the responsibility of the director of Africana studies. Tiffany Anderson, the former director, left in August 2018 to teach at Texas A&M. Her position was filled in January, but planning events like Black History Month takes months to organize.

Even though there were events planned, the time given for planning was limited and might’ve not happened if Jackson Leftwich had not taken lead.

The Annual Diversity Leadership Celebration did not take place this year because the associate vice president of Multicultural Affairs was responsible for organizing the event.

The awards portion of the celebration was moved and incorporated during the Martin Luther King Jr. Observance on Jan. 17, sponsored by the YSU Division of Student Experience.  

“We didn’t want to lose recognizing people,” Eddie Howard, vice president of student affairs said. “The other primary focus behind that was for Dr. Imler to raise resources for minority scholarship and things like that. By the time she left, she had reached her goal in regards to the amount of scholarships.”

Howard explained two approaches the university has to handle diversity and inclusion.

YSU is currently looking for an associate provost for diversity and inclusion to combine the responsibilities of the associate vice president of Multicultural Affairs and director of student inclusion and engagement.

After hiring the new associate provost, the search for a new assistant director of diversity programs will begin with the current director, Ani Solomon, leaving for a position at Kent State University.

“We’re going to repost that position and rehire,” Howard said. “That person is going to really work with, on a student level, helping students to develop programs and initiatives that’s more student affairs focused.”

The YSU Diversity Council works to “promote both extracurricular programs to enhance and increase knowledge and appreciation of cultural diversity” but with Solomon leaving, the council’s advisor, there is no talk on who will be the advisor.

President Jim Tressel believes this problem ties into diversity and inclusion and needs handled in a higher position.

“We want to get it right, especially in the classroom part of things,” Tressel said. “That’s why we thought it needed to report in the provost office, because that’s the office that directs the classroom.”

“In my opinion … we have a lot of people doing the work already,” Howard said. “What I think has happened is a lot of the work we’re doing is disjointed. There are people in different pockets doing different things.”

While different departments have handled events and programs involving diverse cultures, the hope for these positions is to put the responsibility on one office and to have a position in the provost office to bring it to the classrooms.

Patrick Spearman, director of Africana studies, began his new position in January 2019.

“Everything is really focused on students. So, what do students want?” Spearman said. “You can’t give students everything they want. But if they say that we need this office or we need funding for this particular  program or we want this initiative, I think that the administration across the board should listen to those students and try to meet those students in terms of their need.”

Arlene Floyd, a member of Black Alumni Chapter, believes the rescinding resources are a “little microcosm of the larger problem.”

An article by the Jambar reported a nine percent African American student graduation rate according to the 2010 six-year cohort.

William Blake, former director of student inclusion and engagement, believes that students should play a role in making these resources a priority.

“I believe that students should be focused upon identifying a university advocacy agenda that seriously promotes diversity and inclusion,” Blake said.

Although YSU has left some of these positions open for nearly a year, they are now making efforts improve the resources available for African American and minority students.