An Institution's Altered Face

By Jenna Portnoy

Administrators at colleges in the Lehigh Valley say they have made efforts to increase minority enrollment and attract a diverse faculty and staff.

For a small private school, Moravian College in Bethlehem seems to have made enormous strides.

In 2000, only 4.5 percent of freshmen identified themselves as African-American, American Indian, American Asian, Hispanic or, the unsatisfying term reserved for even less mainstream groups, other.

That tally more than doubled in 2003. The number of applications from minority students also shot up from 85 to 186, according to admissions data.

The increase can in part be credited to Chris Hayes, who two years ago became assistant director of admissions for multicultural recruitment.

Last year, the job sent him to Wisconsin, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and other locations known for their diverse populations. Upcoming recruitment trips will take him to East Harlem for the Young Women’s Leadership Fair, to Illinois for a Hispanic fair, and New York’s five boroughs.

Hayes was one of six minority students at a conservative Lancaster, Pa., high school, where he was elected class president twice. After graduation, he returned to serve on the district’s school board. Memories of growing up include eating beans and rice next door at a young Spanish woman’s home.

Hayes, who is black, learned early on how to appreciate other cultures and education, in general. He noticed minority students “pushed by the wayside” during college application time.

Hayes is adamant “that’s not going to happen here anymore,” as he speaks from his cluttered office. Candles, a Feng Shui book, a Zen garden and a water fountain fill one corner. African art decorates the opposite wall.

Outside, the stone buildings and tree-lined walks set the scene for a quintessential small liberal-arts education. That’s exactly the image the administration aims to convey.

Small class size. An informal support system. Professors who print their home phone numbers on syllabi. All these things look good to students who—without Hayes’ aggressive recruitment efforts—might never consider attending Moravian, the sixth-oldest college in the nation.

Careful to avoid saying he hoped to sell students on the school, Hayes understands the draw of a beautiful campus and built-in support system. Far from the so-called “concrete jungle,” where many recruits grew up, Moravian offers a new world.

And Moravian can give them a voice.

“They have a chance to be leaders,” Hayes said. “Show your culture. Don’t be afraid of other cultures.”

Moravian awards scholarships and financial aid to students who would otherwise be held back by socioeconomic factors.

So far the institution’s initiatives have foiled the Catch-22 common to admissions officers all over the country. Schools want a diverse campus, but minority students are leery of going to a college where they stick out among a sea of whites.

Staff members such as Karen S. Britt add to a diverse campus community.

Britt advises nontraditional students, many of whom work full-time while earning degrees. She also teaches economics at Moravian and Northampton Community College.

Eighteen months ago, Britt surveyed the educational opportunities in the Lehigh Valley and accepted a job at Moravian as assistant dean in continuing and graduate studies. [Editor’s note: at the end of August 2003, Karen Britt left to pursue further career opportunities in the Allentown School District.]

“You want to have someone among the population that you’re looking at,” said Britt, who is black. “If there’s no one who looks like you or who you can identify with, it’s very isolating.”

At a college where most day students hail from within a 100-mile radius of Bethlehem, widening the net is a challenge.

But it’s also a must.

College President Ervin J. Rokke set a 10-percent minority enrollment goal for incoming freshman classes. But frankly, he said, attracting the students was the easy part.

Creating a climate where people of diverse backgrounds could feel comfortable—that became the real test. The next step was clear: Moravian needed to aggressively pursue minority teachers and administrators.

“You need your staff and faculty to show diversity if you really want to put your money where your mouth is,” Rokke said.

Efforts have paid off, but there’s still work to be done. Out of 102 faculty members, two blacks and four Hispanics are poised to begin the 2003 academic year, according to Moravian’s Office of Human Resources.

“Without establishing quotas, but rather through simply asking ourselves as an institution, ‘Can you offer a legitimate liberal arts education if you’re lily white?’

“The answer is ‘no,’ ” Rokke said.

Copyright: Easton Express-Times. Reprinted with Permission.

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This summer, Moravian art students, the Art Department, and the Office of Institutional Diversity cooperated to adorn the Haupert Union Building walls, left, with inspiring quotations celebrating diversity. Chis Hayes, above, has helped Moravian bring in its most diverse freshmen class ever.
Photos: Michael P. Wilson