With the opening of the NextGen Hall, the newest learning community on campus opened its doors to about 50 African American men.
ScHOLA2RS House, which stands for the Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars, is led by Dr. Erik M. Hines.
“We’re making sure everyone has a solid foundation to be academically successful,” Hines said. “That’s what we do in all the learning communities.”
Hines began the learning community’s first year experience course by asking the 16 freshmen to introduce themselves and share one thing that surprised them about the university.
Most of the freshmen shared sentiments common to all college freshmen. One freshman was surprised at how nobody nudged them to make sure their homework was done, while another student was amazed at how expensive textbooks were.
One student, however, was surprised at how many white people there were on campus, and said he experienced a bit of a culture shock and was concerned about cultural norms.
Hines used the opportunity to ask the scholars how many of them came from a high school that was primarily Black or Latino. About 70 percent raised their hands.
“It’s night and day. Getting adjusted to a lot of these faces will take time,” Hines said. “I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and make friends with people that may be different from us.”
A few of the scholars said they applied to the learning community because they wanted the opportunity to meet people who were similar to them.
Ahmad Keita, a first-semester electrical engineering major, said he had a lot of organizational issues.
“Hearing that there’s a learning community where there’s a bunch of people like me who might be in the same situation I’m in, was reassuring,” Keita said. “I felt like if I came here it would be helpful.”
Nathan Smith, a first-semester computer science and engineering major, said that he felt he had more of a connection with his brothers.
“The first day we came here we all connected,” Smith said. “Normally when people come to college, knowing that there’s 20,000 people on campus, they feel like they’re by themselves. We didn’t really have that issue.”
Hines is teaching two FYE courses which are designed as an introduction to the university. He also teaches another course for the upperclassmen. That course encourages students to think about life beyond undergraduate studies, whether that be graduate school or undergraduate research.
The FYE course acclimates students to campus and puts them on a path toward academic success. Because the community is interdisciplinary, Hines won’t be teaching the students content specifically about their major.
The freshmen will go on a local team-building field trip, a trip to Washington, D.C. to see museums and even have a study-abroad opportunity during their sophomore year spring break. The trip will be paid for through private funding.
The students will partake in a scavenger hunt, presentations and seminars given by the Center for Career Development and the Academic Achievement Center.
Hines said that the community has a waiting list of about five or six students.
In March, two members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights wrote to President Susan Herbst, expressing concern that the ScHOLA2RS House was designed to racially separate black students.
Hines, who proposed the learning community, is an assistant professor in the Neag School of Education Counseling program. He researches African American men and their academic achievements.
“ScHOLA2RS House is no different from other learning communities, other than our mission,” Hines said. “We want to improve the graduation rates of African American men at UConn… It’s just another piece of the puzzle that we support all our students here at our university community.”
Hines said that he was hoping to eliminate some of the sensationalism around the learning community now that it is open. He said people demonize the program without really understanding it.
Smith heard some negative feedback from people outside of his learning community.
“They tried to make it seem as if UConn was segregating their students, which was not the case,” Smith said. “We choose to come here. They separated a space for us to prosper, and we wanted to join it.”
Noah Fontaine, a first-semester chemical engineering major, heard positive feedback from his friends.
“Everyone I’ve talked to thought (ScHOLA2RS House) was important,” Fontaine said. “(African American men) have only a 33 percent graduation rate, which is incredibly low.”
“I just want everybody to know that we’re going to dominate,” Fontaine added. “We’re going to dominate in sports, in the classroom – wherever we go. We’re not going to do it arrogantly, but with respect. I want to show people that we are really about our business.”
Claire Galvin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.