The percentage of black students at four of Western North Carolina's universities is low, and so is the number of faculty members at each schools that could mentors for those students.
This week, BPR has been talking with students from UNC Asheville who presented at this fall’s African-Americans in Western North Carolina and Southern Appalachia conference. In our final interview, BPR’s Matt Bush speaks with Jeremy James, who graduated from the school this month. He looked at the lack of African-American mentors for black students at five schools in the region – UNC Asheville, Western Carolina, Warren Wilson, Mars Hill, and Appalachian State.
Excerpts from interview:
On the significance of the mentor-student relationship in college - "That role is very significant, especially in this new period with colleges where so much is based off of connections. So, I don't know everyone's situation but I know mine, and it's one of the top things (graduate & doctorate programs) recommend is to already have a mentor in place or someone you want to work with while you're doing your research. That mentorship allows for connections - internships, job opportunities, when it comes time to getting your research read or someone looking over it, they're going to make sure it's thorough and correct. That connection is pivital in going to the next level."
What have his mentorship opportunities at UNC Asheville been like - "All three of my mentors that I consider to be pivital have been white women. At the end of the day, the (skin) complexion of your mentor doesn't matter. Where it begins to matter, and this true in my experience, the white women who helped me, they can only help me so much. They can only understand so much of who I am. Whereas I've only had truly one black professor in academia, and the conversations I've with him, it's like he was hitting the hammer on the nail about how I felt about situations. If I asked him a question about something, he knew without me having to go into further detail. He just knew."
How can the five schools in WNC diversify their faculty - "How you fix that issue is...you have to hire faculty of color. And it's not that tenure is an issue but, I look at it like and NBA roster chart. There's 15 slots, and 10 of these slots have already been filled and you have contracts and you can't trade them. There's only five other slots to be filled? How many of those being interviewed (for those slots) are African-American, or of Asian descent, of LatinX? We need to learn inclusion and that diversity makes education a better experience, not just for people of color but for everyone."