"Alliance" exhibition reception postponed

Rich Amada
March 25, 1999

Lynette Cook Francis, associate dean of students and director of the Department of Multicultural Programs and Services (DMPS), has her work cut out for her.

Four months on the job, Cook Francis oversees five separate units under the DMPS' umbrella - African American Student Affairs (AASA), Asian Pacific American Student Affairs (APASA), Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs (CHSA), Native American Student Affairs (NASA) and multicultural/academic student affairs, formerly called Minority Student Services (MSS).

"The biggest change is now there's a DMPS -- that didn't exist two years ago," Cook Francis said. "I've been appointed as the associate dean and director of the entire department. Each unit operates in the way that it sees is appropriate for the population that its serving, but we operate toward a larger goal. We collaborate, try not to replicate services and try to offer better services."

Cook Francis said the purpose of the department is to ensure that students who may encounter difficulty in the academic setting have equal access to the educational opportunities available. She said that individuals who do not have a history or background with advanced schooling may feel they are not entitled to services that other students readily employ, such as tutoring or leadership programs.

And she wants to dismiss the notion that multicultural programs are solely geared toward ethnic minority students.

"We serve income-eligible students, disabled students and first generations students," she said. "There are a lot of reasons why a student might have trouble adjusting to the environment of the University and our job is to make sure they get access to the services they need.

"One of the things I think is unique about what we do is that culture is central to our programs," she said. "Students bring a cultural background to the University whether it's ethnic, regional or socioeconomic or some other. The University is a culture of its own.

"Our programs facilitate the coming together of those cultures. We try to create a safe, comfortable and familiar environment for students and provide academic referral information, cultural support, leadership and leadership training," Cook Francis said. "We also try to create intentional opportunities for students to explore across cultures."

She maintained that diversity is important in the growth of a university.

"Diversity is an element that's present in any situation where there is more than one person," Cook Francis said. "And its definition changes according to the venue. Achieving diversity at a historically black or tribal college would mean something different than at the UA. Like I said, it's just not racial or ethnic. But, there's no doubt that increased ethnic diversity would serve the University well. The students we serve bring a wealth of perspectives and experiences that enhance the University. Diversity contributes to the excellence of the institution."

Cook Francis came well prepared for her current position. Prior to her appointment, she was the director of Multicultural and International Student Affairs at Whitman College in Washington. Since it was a small school with an enrollment of 1,250, she worked with a variety of students.

"At Whitman 'multicultural' was broadly defined," she said. "It included gender, sexual preference, women's issues, international students. I gained a 'big picture' view."

It also enabled her to work closely with the students from a student-services perspective, which was a departure from her previous position as a tenured, full-time English faculty member at a state college in New Jersey.

"As a faculty member, I had received grants to work with other faculty on multicultural curriculum transformation. But working at Whitman gave me a real sense of how student affairs works. It's one thing to be a teacher who really likes students and is supportive of them. It's another thing to have a job that is completely devoted to the well being of students from a holistic point of view," she specified. "It's not just their academic well being, it's their social and cultural well being also."

Cook Francis contended the larger minority issues are pretty much universal - student retention, campus climate, having role models in the faculty and administration, and having their voices represented in student government and the curriculum.

Although the department of multicultural programs and services has a number of "tried and true" programs, Cook Francis is eager to develop new programs with the five directors.

"My goals are that we do what we're charged to do very well," she asserted. "We have so much combined experience here as a team that I think the next avenue is developing programs that are on the cutting edge."

She said the entire department is focusing on the retention of students.

"The University currently has the largest number of ethnic minority students on campus than its ever had," Cook Francis said. "We see our job as working with the University community to make sure that once those students come, they are able to stay to persist to graduation."

She cited the New Start summer program as one of their successes. Now in its 31st year, the program, which is run out of the multicultural/academic student affairs unit, serves as a summer bridge program for ethnic minority and income eligible students.

During the June and July months, incoming UA freshmen take intensive classes, participate in an academic conference and get a jump-start on college life.

"There are literally thousands of UA alums who were New Starters. The impact of the program is undeniable. And now that we are collaborating better, with the help of the Native American Student Affairs office, tribes are sponsoring incoming American-Indian students. There is even a New Start 25th reunion planned for this summer.
"I think we're going to start seeing other retention models coming to fore at some of the other student affairs offices too," she emphasized. "You never know what's going to work to keep a student in school. You have to take risks and expect only incremental changes. Multicultural student retention follows the more general sociopolitical changes in society. And society changes slowly. When you do this work you're in it for the long haul."

Cook Francis is enthusiastic about the program's potential and credited her division directors for their vast knowledge.

"I rely on the fact that I work with a team of professionals who are experts," Francis said. "They're all professionals and experts in their own right, and my job is to help coordinate their ideas. My biggest task now is to help build a team, which is coming together really well.

"I'm glad to be here," she said. "It's an amazing opportunity to start at the ground level of a developing department like this. There are not many university departments in the country that bring together these various aspects in a single entity. I feel excited and fortunate to be able to do this kind of work and to work with the kind of people I do."


Resources for the media