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Diversity on the Fenway
by Grace Austin
Wheelock College sits on the picturesque Fenway area in Boston, just five minutes from Northeastern and Boston Universities. While Wheelock is much smaller than its educational counterparts, the college has been transformed into model of diversity, undergoing rapid transformation under the helm of Jackie Jenkins-Scott. Only the thirteenth president in Wheelock’s 124-year history, and the first African American to lead the school, Jenkins-Scott’s hiring was a break with tradition. Although Jenkins-Scott’s background is not in academia nor does she have a doctorate degree, her notable initiatives have made Wheelock a model for diversity.
Educator Lucy Wheelock founded Wheelock College in 1888 with a mission to “improve the lives of women and children.” Wheelock’s initial enrollment was 12 students in a kindergarten teacher training class. Over the last century, the small kindergarten education program expanded to a four-year college and graduate degree programs. For most of Wheelock’s history, the school has been largely female and white. Under Jenkins-Scott’s leadership, the school is now comprised of 23% students of color, up from 12% when she began her tenure. This statistic is only growing: the class of 2014 is 32% students of color.
[sws_pullquote_right]“I’ve spent almost my entire professional career working in inner-city communities. I was really attracted to Wheelock’s unique and special mission to improve the lives of children and families.” [/sws_pullquote_right]
Jenkins-Scott’s grew up far from her adopted home of Boston. Jenkins-Scott was born in segregated Arkansas, and grew up in working class Flint, Michigan. After attending graduate school in Boston, she became director of the Dimock Community Health Center in the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston. Working at the health center for 21 years, Jenkins-Scott helped bring health and human services to an underserved population in Boston. Jenkins-Scott came to Wheelock College in 2005.
“I’ve spent almost my entire professional career working in inner-city communities. I was really attracted to Wheelock’s unique and special mission to improve the lives of children and families. I saw the connection between what I spent my professional career doing and felt it was very compatible with the mission of the college,” said Jenkins-Scott.
Wheelock’s current president has instituted many innovative initiatives. Her main success has been in strengthening the college’s core undergraduate and graduate academic programs, enhancing the undergraduate experience, and expanding the college’s global-reach, which includes Guatemala, Singapore, Ghana, Bermuda, and Ireland. She has instituted an International Visiting Scholars program that has been mutually beneficial for Wheelock faculty and visiting students.
Wheelock also has a special connection with Singapore, where the school has been educating students for 20 years and has educated or trained nearly 25% of all early childhood educators in the country. “We live in a very diverse world and we believe it’s important for our students to leave here as global citizens. Over the past eight years, we have been very focused on providing experiences and opportunities both off and on our campus for our students to understand what that commitment to improving the lives of children and families is all about,” said Jenkins-Scott. “It’s transformational for students to have an international experience.
New Initiatives at Wheelock
During Jenkins-Scott’s tenure, an Office of Institutional Diversity, the first of its kind, was formed. Dr. Adrian Haguabrook helms the office, which grew out of the Community Diversity Initiative, a program designed to help local diversity efforts. Haguabrook hopes to integrate diversity throughout the whole university, and make the office less of an entity on its own.
Jenkins-Scott has instituted many programs that attempt to reach out to less fortunate students, all with a goal of bettering the community. One of these initiatives includes the Pre-Collegiate and Access Programs, which works with high school juniors and seniors to prepare them for college. Many of these students are often the first in their families to go to college. Indeed, 52% of incoming freshman at Wheelock are the first in their families to attend a university.
“There is a lot of work we are doing in the city of Boston. Our work is about helping students to understand how to prepare students for college, especially the students that typically or traditionally have the factors that don’t allow them access to higher education. That office works across the city of Boston, linking the resources from Wheelock to the community and bringing the community into Wheelock,” said Haguabrook.
Jenkins-Scott has also inspired a higher education program targeting men to become teachers, particularly men of color. Haguabrook sees this as a critical issue.
“We know we are not going to be making a national impact, but the one thing we do know is that it takes some inspiration and programming to create a pilot that can be replicable [at other universities.] We convened conferences, speakers, and meetings and the result was a pilot partnership with Eagle Academy a school for young men in New York,” said Haguabrook.
The two-year long process targets juniors and seniors interested in making teaching their career, whether they attend Wheelock or another school. The program began three years ago. Currently there are five men from Eagle Academy and two from the Boston-area attending Wheelock College.
Wheelock College has attempted in recent years to expand as a college and broaden its reach in the community. Two important events have been key to this goal: a 2007 Youth Symposium that focused on timely issues such as youth violence and the high dropout rate among urban Boston youth, and 2010 mentoring-focused Passion for Action, in which Greater Boston teachers nominated students who had shown leadership skills and a passion for being “change agents.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the key-note speaker at the symposium, while actor and activist Hill Harper spoke to students at Passion for Action.
“We see them as something we will do every three years. We will have another one in 2013. Out of both of these symposiums have grown successful follow-up activities. At the first symposium, the students themselves talked about how they were tired of violence in their community; they talked about taking control of their communities. They created their own organization called Spark the Truth. Spark the Truth now serves 3,000 students in the Greater Boston area, and is run by college students. Said Jenkins-Scott, “We’re very proud out of what has grown out of these two symposiums.”
Capital Campaign and the Future
Wheelock recently announced an unprecedented Capital Campaign of $80 million for the school, of which $54 million has already been raised. This is an impressive feat for a small school of 1200 faculty, staff, and students, and in a struggling economy.
“We’re very excited about our campaign. We consider this campaign to be transformative for Wheelock College. It’s the largest campaign in the history of the college,” said Jenkins-Scott.
The future looks bright for Wheelock College, which although is much smaller and less well-known than some surrounding universities, is looking to expand and improve diversity. Jenkins-Scott hopes to do this by bringing more diverse students and faculty to the college and incorporating technology as a major pillar of diversity.
“We are not going to be satisfied with 30% of our student population representing diverse communities. It’s not so much about the number, but that we want to have a true commitment to diversity,” said Jenkins-Scott. “We think there is no other way for an institution of higher education to be thriving without that kind of commitment.”