Christion Brooks enrolled at the University of Akron with such low grades that he was on probation.
It was UA’s Office of Multicultural Development that taught him how to study and helped him adjust.
“I don’t know if I could have made it without them,” said Brooks, of suburban Columbus.
Brooks, a senior geography and geology major, was among about 75 students who took part Tuesday in a peaceful rally under postcard-blue skies to protest UA’s decision to eliminate the Office of Multicultural Development next fall.
English major Michael Davis of Youngstown organized the rally when he learned UA was replacing the Office of Multicultural Development with a Center for Student Success and Multicultural Center.
Jim Tressel, vice president for strategic engagement, said the new centers will try to reach a broader swath of students. He said the university would seek more student input as it goes forward.
“We’re going to keep moving forward to do what we think is the best thing to enhance student success,” Tressel said.
The stakes are high for UA: Half of the state subsidy to public universities is tied to graduation rate. And only 10 percent of first-time, full-time black students graduate within six years, compared to 43 percent of whites at UA.
The university must buoy both numbers to leverage more state dollars — hence the new emphasis on helping all students.
Tressel said the new centers will continue to offer the same services as the Office of Multicultural Development and that UA actually is putting more muscle behind the effort.
While the Office of Multicultural Development employs five people, the new centers will employ a total of 19, from the Office of Multicultural Development and from other departments.
Still, rally organizer Davis and others worry the new emphasis will dilute services to underrepresented students who might not have been well-prepared for college and who feel out of place on campus.
The protesters held signs and put tape across their mouths to express that UA is not listening to their concerns.
“I’ve seen how beneficial the OMD has been to multicultural students,” said Alex Torres-Hernandez, originally from Puerto Rico and now a senior studying sociology and criminology at UA. “I’m worried that underrepresented students will lose the little support that they have.”
Tressel did not attend the rally because he had a previous commitment as the guest speaker at an event for Lake and Geauga counties guidance counselors.
Not all students agreed the new programs are a threat to the Office of Multicultural Development’s mission.
“This is the true definition of multiculturalism,” said Darnell D. Davis Jr., a sophomore from McKeesport, Pa., who is majoring in criminal justice and political science.
“We need to be more inclusive. To open it up to more people is the right thing to do,” he said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.