By Beth Khalifa

Arizona Summer Wildcat

University administrators are focusing on new goals and working to combat negative publicity since the elimination of the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) one year ago.

Students protested the elimination of the office, which provided a central reference point for all minority student services, including cultural resources, orientation, and academic assistance programs.

"I think, initially, there was difficulty for students because OMSA was symbolic, and the elimination was a symbol that administration wasn't as committed," said Teresa Graham Brett, associate director of minority student services.

Brett said although the administrative unit was eliminated, the same programs are being provided.

"Now all the people that used to report to that central coordinating role still exist, but they report to different areas," she said.

Debi Nalwood, assistant dean of the Native American Resource Center, said she feels there is a lack of advocacy at the UA's administrative level, adding that she has to seek support from tribal communities to get issues across and policies reviewed.

"It meant that I had to go elsewhere for the advocacy," she said. "We have to set up our own meeting schedule and it makes it timely."

Nalwood said she is called on more personally and feels a greater responsibility.

"It comes back to me to show other staff members how to assist students with certain programs," she said. "They want me to have the expertise on running minority programs, and we really weren't ready to make that change."

Jesse Hargrove, assistant dean of African American affairs, said the elimination of OMSA has created confusion, especially for incoming students.

"People don't have a coordinating unit," he said.

But Saundra Taylor, vice president for student affairs, said the colleges are committed to improving minority services. She said the College of Engineering recently replaced a position previously eliminated, director of the Minority Engineering Program, after receiving criticism for the move.

"The challenge now is not necessarily to go back to the centralized system, but now the Board of Regents has established new goals that are more challenging for us and for the whole university," Brett said.

The Minority Student Advisory Committee and the University Task Force, formed in response to student protests, are advancing a retention goal to increase the graduation rate of minority students.

Taylor said the goal is a challenge that was not met under the old system (OMSA).

"It's not enough to bring students in," she said. "They must graduate."

Taylor said currently, 38 percent of African American students graduate whereas 48 percent of non-minority students graduate. Additionally, a task force report submitted to the Board of Regents in May shows the six-year graduation rate at the UA is 18 percent for Native Americans, 55 percent for Asians and 37 percent for Hispanics.

The report, which outlines the goals of minority services for Arizona universities, recommends that the difference in graduation rates between minorities and non-minorities be reduced by 5 percent a year for ten years, or 50 percent.

Taylor said retaining minority students will be more difficult than recruiting them because many variables are involved in the reasons students do not graduate.

"We must engage the whole college," she said. "This will take the work of all the deans and people in all colleges who see the students."

Brett, who heads the Minority Retention Center, said additional difficulty has resulted with the move of the Minority Student Services office to the Old Chemistry building, because students associate the center with Old Main.

"We have to get across that we are still here," she said. "That's a bigger challenge for us than the elimination of the office."

Brett said a positive outcome of cutting OMSA is people are less complacent and more aware of their duties.

"It kind of woke people up and got us to work to make more progress, and work together," she said. "You take things for granted, and when it's gone you work harder for it." Read Next Article