Clemson University is organizing a national summit in Greenville in April that aims to open the door to higher education for students of color and is expected to be attended by more than 1,600 college students, government officials, community activists, educators and industry leaders.
An ongoing program to be launched as part of the initiative will give 400 students from predominantly minority high schools, mostly in Greenville and Anderson counties, guidance and enrichment opportunities designed to make them college-ready.
“When you can close an achievement gap, everyone wins,” Clemson President Jim Clements said in a meeting with editors at The Greenville News on Tuesday.The Men of Color National Summit to be held April 27-28 at the TD Center is expected to have a $1.29 million economic impact on Greenville, according to VisitGreenvilleSC. The city is offering use of the convention center free of charge, Clemson officials said.
Clemson plans to make this an annual event.
The nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” with 8 million listeners across 105 radio markets, will broadcast live from the summit, officials said. Keynote speakers include PBS TV host Tavis Smiley and ESPN college football analyst and former NFL player Desmond Howard.
Students from Carolina and Berea high schools in Greenville County will be among those selected to become part of a 400-student “Tiger Alliance” cohort who will receive multi-year enrichment programs both at their school and on the Clemson campus as they work toward graduation and prepare for college.
Of those 400 students, 250 will come from Greenville County, 100 from Anderson District 5 and the rest from the Interstate 95 corridor.
“The heart of the summit is the young men in the Tiger Alliance,” said Lee Gill, Clemson University’s chief diversity officer and special assistant to the president for inclusive excellence. “The global perspective that a college education provides will not just help them excel in life, but will also contribute to the talent dividend that benefits the state of South Carolina and the nation.”
Students will be chosen by their principal based on teacher recommendations and must have at least a 2.5 GPR, good attendance and good conduct records, Gill said.
Berea High Principal Mike Noel said he thinks the program will have “a huge impact” on his students, most of whom would be the first in their family to go to college.
“One of the biggest issues that you have in schools in high poverty areas is that a lot of them just don’t know and understand what it takes to go to college,” he said. “I think anytime you have people who have been through the process, they can help them with that.”
His school has raised its on-time graduation rate from 71.4 percent in 2013 to 80.9 percent this year, but only 38.5 percent of Berea’s 2015 graduates were enrolled in college last fall, compared to 76.9 percent for the district as a whole and 70.7 percent statewide.
The Tiger Alliance program will bring mentors into the high school next spring, and participating students also will be brought onto the Clemson campus for weekend programs, officials said.
The goal of the summit is “to attract and retain a highly talented and diverse group of students, faculty, and staff at the university,” but it’s not aimed at drawing minority students solely to Clemson but rather to whatever college suits them, university officials said.
It will emphasize two messages: “Stay focused” and “Never give up.”
The event was patterned after one that Gill developed at the University of Akron before coming to Clemson last spring. It was credited with helping raise the graduation rate of African-American male students by 12 percentage points and had 2,000 participants this year, its ninth, Gill said.
More than 20 nationally regarded figures in personal and professional development are scheduled to speak at the Greenville event in April.
In addition to Smiley and Howard, the list includes John Quiñones, host of the ABC newsmagazine “What Would You Do?” Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; Sergio A. Garcia, vice president and chief of staff of Canton-Potsdam Hospital and former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and Roy Jones, executive director of Clemson’s Call Me MISTER program, which encourages African-American males to go into the teaching profession.
The two-day event will include more than 20 breakout sessions on such topics as “masculine identity and media perceptions” and student achievement strategies.
The program focuses on African-American and Hispanic males because they are the demographic with the lowest rate of success in getting to college, and there are other programs for minority females, Clemson officials said.
The summit comes at a time when Clemson is working to improve the diversity of its student body and faculty. It also follows student protests over the name of the university’s most iconic building, named for virulent 19th century racist Ben Tillman, and over events that some students perceived as racially insensitive.
In July 2015, Clemson Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution that called the actions and views of Tillman, “repugnant” to the university’s values, and directed the university to appoint a task force to study the complete history of the university in depth.
Clements reported on his blog in August that the number of African-American students in Clemson's incoming freshman class was up 25 percent from the previous year. However, the overall percentage of African-American students was listed at around 5.6 percent for 2016 in an online university fact book.
Meanwhile, the percentage of African-American, Hispanic or Native American faculty rose from 6.4 percent in 2014 to 16 percent in 2016, according to Clements.
More information on the Men of Color National Summit can be found at www.clemson.edu/inclusion/summit.