By Lauretta Dawolo Towns
“They were a band of brothers — boys right out of high school — embracing their first year together. They wanted to do things together,” said Huntley House Community Advisor Profit Idowu about his new mentees.
Huntley House (HH) is one of the newest Living Learning Communities (LLC) at the University of Minnesota. The U of M Housing and Residential Life (on-campus housing) has several LLCs that focus on students’ common cultural experience. Located in Sanford Hall on the corner of University and 17th Ave., Huntley House is open to first year African American male students. This LLC will encourage students to explore issues of ethnicity, identity, and leadership while receiving academic support and actively participating in and contributing to student life on campus.
For the 2012-13 school year, incoming African American first-year students made up about 3.4 percent of the U of M Twin Cities campus freshman class, 82 of them are African American males. With those numbers, there is a definite need for supportive environments for students of color. “We want to create community and connectedness,” said Patrick Troup, director of retention initiatives at the Univ. of MN.
Last school year, six young men became pioneering residents of the Huntley House. Five of them were from the Twin Cities and surrounding first-ring suburbs. This year, there are 22 applicants and counting from all over the country.
“We’re considering open enrollment next year. Some juniors and seniors have inquired about vacancies,” said Troup. “We’re also looking at inviting student athletes. With meaningful participation, they could be considered for Huntley House.”
Huntley House began as a collaborative idea between former admission counselor Jasmine Omorogbe and Walt Jacobs, an associate professor of African American & African Studies and special projects coordinator in the Office of Undergraduate Education.. The two also gained support from the College of Liberal Arts, the Office of Equity and Diversity, and the Office of Admissions.
“They ran with the idea,” said Troup. “Not many African American males are interested in residence halls.” Many students of color, particularly from the metro area, choose to live off campus and commute to class. “We know that when [students] stay on campus, they do better, graduate sooner, and persist harder in their studies. We try to reinforce that with families,” he said.
Huntley House is named for an important alumnus with a significant role in the University’s history. The historical Morrill Hall takeover in 1969 was led by Horace Huntley and other African American students. The protest against inequality and the occupation of the president’s office spread awareness of issues facing Black University of Minnesota students at the time, subsequently leading to the formation of today’s Department of African American & African Studies.
The role of the department for Huntley House is to engage conversations on campus and in the community about how best to support these and future residents of Huntley House. Students met Dr. Huntley at the beginning of the school year at a kick-off event at the U of M Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC).
“The initial event set the tone,” said Troup. “After meeting Huntley, they were empowered by being the first and excited about the changes they could make to the campus community.”
Huntley is currently the director of the Oral History Project at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and has been professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for almost 40 years. HH Coordinators are planning a spring trip to Birmingham for the 2013-14 school year.
HH peer mentors were very influential during the inaugural year. Idowu lives on the same floor with the HH participants. He will return as the community advisor (CA) for his senior year.
When asked why he wanted to be involved, he said, “I thought back to my freshman year. If I was an African American male coming to campus [and there was Huntley House], I would have jumped at the chance. There were so many things I didn’t know,” he said.
Part of the idea of Huntley House is to provide students with institutional agents and mentors to help them navigate the big campus. “They help this campus become a welcoming place,” said Troup.
“It gives freshmen a head start, especially for first generation [college] students. It can be hard because you don’t have the same resources, framework, or support,” Idowu added. HH participants have some accountability and responsibility throughout the academic year. Idowu guides them as they select community service projects.
In addition to connecting with their CA at the residence hall, there were weekly student sessions facilitated by their peer mentor. Students also met individually with Troup on a quarterly basis. The guys engaged in social interaction together including sporting events, movies, and special meals. They were required to participate in at least two workshops per semester on campus, i.e. graduate research or study abroad.
Focused study sessions and tutoring was also provided. Another benefit of Huntley House is in creating friendships and bonds. “They built relationships to make their college experience what they wanted it to be, not someone else’s,” said Idowu.
One of the immediate results of Huntley House in its first year was evidence of leadership. “They are becoming important change agents and leaders on campus,” said Troup. “Two of them are on the board of the Black Student Union (BSU).”
Several of the HH participants also worked on calling campaigns in the Office of Admissions. “Prospective students are now connected to a student representative they can relate to, who can describe specifically what’s happening [on campus],” he added.
HH participants have expressed their own constructive feedback in preparation for next year’s program, including more mentors, more focused study sessions and increased involvement from their peers. “They’ve said that it was a positive experience overall. They do wish more guys were involved though,” said Troup.
Next year’s agenda has more specific resources for African American males including a class on Black Male Representation, taught by Professor Keith Mayes. “We want them to have a deeper sense of self and community to be successful…one that validates who they are and what they bring,” said Troup.
There are other lessons learned after the inaugural year. “This is one of many vehicles to attract students, but more importantly we want to create a visible pathway for success. We want to connect them to everything the U of M has to offer to help them prosper,” said Troup. That means there must be a bigger strategy than Huntley House.
“All faculty and staff will have to play a role in outreach. We’re already working with admissions to change its approach to increasing numbers.” Troup explained. He and others would like to reach more community organizations, mosques, and churches for example to increase the visibility and support for Black male students. There is also a plan to work with MN Private Colleges and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
Huntley House is not the only residency plan for U of M African American students. The University is considering the purchase of several duplexes on the West Bank to house members of Black fraternities and sororities for the 2014-15 school year.
For more information about Huntley House or to apply, contact Housing & Residential Life at 612 624-2994 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauretta Dawolo Towns welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.