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UConn Advance

Five honored for improving diversity
Annual awards promote multiculturalism
By Luis Mocete
May 2, 1997

When Ellen Darrow took responsibility for planning and implementing a six-week college program for 15 students of color last June, she had less than two and a half weeks to get it done.

With the help of others, she began what has proven to be a successful summer enrichment program designed to increase opportunities for minority student success in the health professions.

Because of her accomplishment, Darrow, director of the academic advisory center in the School of Allied Health, was among five members of the University community honored for their efforts in pursuit of multiculturalism and affirmative action.

The fourth annual UConn Awards for Promoting Multiculturalism and Diversity were presented Thursday at the Asian-American Cultural Center to Darrow; James Henkel, associate dean of the graduate school; Robert L. Brown, program manager for the Center for Academic Programs' student support services at the Greater Hartford campus; Cynthia Adams, associate dean of the School of Allied Health; and Rodney Rock, director of Jorgensen Auditorium.

"We were looking for individuals who were going out of their way to contribute beyond what is required of them in promoting multiculturalism," said Jaishree Gopinath, chair of the awards subcommittee of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity and Equity.

Henkel remembers virtually no multicultural presence when he got involved with graduate programs in the late 1980s.

But that has changed, according to a nomination letter from Tom Giolas, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for research and economic development.

"After nine years of activities through Jim's efforts and persistence, the graduate school now has 510 graduate students of color enrolled," a 92 percent increase, Giolas said. The school now has about $1.1 million a year in multicultural graduate student funding and benefits, compared with $6,000 in 1988.

Retaining minorities
Not only has Henkel been vital to enrolling students, he has begun a program to retain those students once they arrive in Storrs.

"I call it the cluster technique," Henkel said. "If you put an individual in a foreign environment by him or herself and they have no one else to talk to that has a similar background to them, that person will fail to thrive. Our approach around that is to put those students together. Whatever program the student is in, we make sure they have other people with similar backgrounds in there to serve as a sounding board or a common dias of understanding. This has proved to be beneficial not only to them, but faculty and other non-minority students as well, because they become more at ease with students of color."

Brown, meanwhile, is the bulwark of the multicultural/diversity programs at the Hartford regional campus, according to a letter of nomination from Arnold Orza, interim director of the campus. Along with his normal duties, he advises three student associations and serves as a liaison to the Career Beginnings Program, which targets minority students from area high schools.

Adams has been an advocate for women's issues. While she has focused her energies in this area, "It is important both professionally and personally to be involved with people of color because I know a commitment to diverse perspectives is important," Adams said. "I don't like to give it lip service. I like to make it a reality."

As director of the Women's Health Conferences, she has brought women from across New England to hear experts speak on issues specific to women's health. According to a nomination letter from Joseph Smey, dean of the School of Allied Health, diversity has been an important factor at the conferences, with prominent women of various races featured as speakers.

"Even though the goal of our conference is to attract women, we should not forget that they can be people of color," Adams said. "Because we are women, we are not immune from a commitment to diversity. We have a special responsibility toward diversity, because we know what it is like to be discriminated against."

Three years ago, Rock was instrumental in starting a multicultural series that would serve as a forum for traditional ethnic artists who have had difficulty getting exposure.

"Rodney has the vision and understanding of what it means to embrace and celebrate multiculturalism and diversity," said Angela Rola, director of the Asian American Cultural Center.

During its 1996-97 season, Jorgensen has featured artists from South Africa, Asia, Europe and South America to educate and entertain the University and surrounding communities, according to a nomination letter.

Winners received a plaque and a stipend of $500 to be used to help sustain or expand multiculturalism and affirmative action at UConn.

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