Decker organ concert postponed
by D.A. Barber
Director of African American Student Affairs Alex M. Wright wants to build leaders at the African American Cultural Resource Center.
Wright, who joined the UA in September 1999, came from Western Oregon University where he was the director of the Student Enrichment Program since June 1998. Originally from Los Angeles, Wright moved to Oregon where he received a bachelor's degree sociology in 1978 from Lynfield College. After four years in the Army as a Personal Administrative Specialist, he worked in the insurance field before returning to school. He graduated with bachelor's in social studies from Portland State in 1994 and an master's in education from Western Oregon University in 1997. Wright left his position at WOU to take his current post at the UA relishing the idea of working with the African American population on a division one campus.
The challenges Wright happily faces not only include building leaders, but also offering a support base for keeping students in school.
"I'd like to see us do something where we can dramatically effect the retention and graduation rate of our students. Currently, we run somewhere around a 33 percent graduation rate."
Wright says the UA has about 886 African American students, or about 2.1 percent of the student body. And while two-thirds of those students leave the UA for one reason or another, Wright says the UA does not keep statistics on whether those students go on to graduate somewhere else. Nevertheless, many leave school the first year and never return.
"If you keep the students through the first year, their chances of graduating goes up," says Wright who notes that many students leave frustrated and disenfranchised simply because they feel they don't fit in.
"One of the reasons they give in is the conservativeness of the campus and Arizona. Sometimes they just do not feel like they can really be themselves. The students really want to show who they really are, but they're afraid."
The pressure to fit in has resulted in a "high level of frustration" and Wright notes that this is not necessarily the case at many large universities where the student body is an eclectic mix of "all kinds of people being who they want to be." Identifying the underlying frustration brings Wright back to his goal: building leaders who are willing to take the risk and not being afraid to express themselves.
"My main concern right now is instilling in people this notion that everybody's a leader. Life is very short and if you spend your life walking around being afraid to be who you are, you're missing a lot of opportunities."
Still, to have the opportunity to build leaders among the UA African American student body, Wright and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Resource Center is striving to keep the students at UA through the first year and on to graduation. The center is accomplishing this by reaching out to the entire African American freshman class to come to the center for some one-on-one contact. Wright and his staff want to determine if there is anything they can do to help students with their adjustment to the UA.
One program that Wright describes as "nothing but positive" is the Progress Report the center compiles for students to take back to their instructors. Wright says the result is that the instructors develop more of a relationship with the students and are much more willing to help.
While his immediate goal for UA's African American students are to see them through to graduation and build leaders, he also has long-term goals for the center.
"My vision is to have a world-class, cutting-edge program that the rest of the country can look to as a model, and to have this center be a place that the entire University can be proud of: We want to exclude no one."
TopicsArts and Humanities
University of Arizona in the News