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Grant boosts student-led mentoring program

by Luanne Williams

A half century after the end of the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans across the nation are more than twice as likely to have a college degree as in 1968. But according to an Economic Policy Institute report, they are still half as likely as whites to have crossed the commencement stage.

It’s that gap that the founders of KIN (Knowledge. Impact. Next.) are trying to help close with a student-led mentoring program that has been awarded a $4,000 grant from Wingate University’s Board of Visitors.

Already, Wingate prides itself on its graduation rates, especially among the financially disadvantaged and minorities. A Brookings Institute study examining six-year rates for students starting school in 2010 found that Wingate was one of just 14 colleges and universities in the U.S. that had higher graduation rates for Pell students than for non-Pell students and for black students than white students.

But the organizers of KIN, 2018 graduates Tyrone Fleurizard and Tim Myers, say acquiring a college degree can still be an uphill battle for students of color, even at Wingate.

“It was a conversation between us and another student, Devarius Christian, that started KIN,” Myers says. “We were reflecting on how far we’ve come since our first year. Tyrone struggled finding his footing academically and was homesick. I am the first person in my family to attend a four-year university and had a hard time getting acclimated and finding myself. And D.C. had to fight negative stereotypes associated with being a black student-athlete.”

He said they realized that their stories weren’t unique but that their potential to help others avoid the pitfalls that nearly tripped them up was worth exploring.

“Many students go through the same things we did, but we felt like we were uniquely positioned to help alleviate some of these challenges for students like us,” says Fleurizard, who begins a graduate program in psychology at Boston College in August. He graduated in May with University Honors.

Two African-American female college students in black dresses.

They came up with a plan to pair experienced students with those just entering college to create a family-oriented, “kin,” support system. They also decided to offer personal- and professional-development workshops and opportunities for community service – offerings that represent the knowledge and impact pillars of their KIN acronym.

The first KIN participants were 23 students who applied at the beginning of the 2017 fall semester, most connecting with the new venture via the Black Student Union.

“One thing we’ve already addressed with our members are microaggressions in and out of the classroom (i.e., “you’re pretty for a black girl,” “you’re smart for someone with your background,” etc.),” Myers, who recently took a job as outreach and support coordinator in the University’s Office of Admissions, wrote in an email. “We’re positioned to help black students overcome issues like these in ways that others might not be able to.” And because of how KIN is organized, mentees grow into mentors.

“The ‘Next’ in KIN refers to members paying it forward to the next class of KIN members,” says Fleurizard.

In addition to the mentoring and workshops, KIN members can apply for a scholarship to cover the cost of textbooks for the semester. The first scholarships were funded out of pocket, but Myers and Fleurizard say the BOV grant will help KIN offer more-effective workshops and more scholarships.

They’ve also created a handbook that will serve as a guide for future directors, who will be chosen as part of BSU’s executive board elections.

“We think it is important that colleges and universities listen to and support student-led initiatives like KIN,” Fleurizard says, expressing his gratitude to the Board of Visitors. “Support can be in the form of program funding, having students on committees, connecting initiatives like KIN to off-campus resources, etc. Universities can and should leverage student experiences for better outcomes for all.”

“Our story is far from finished, and we look forward to the growth of the program and the impact it can have for underrepresented students at Wingate University,” Myers says.

July 2, 2018

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