Residence hall maintenance technician Hank Countee isn’t involved in any organized diversity programming at WCU but he lives the University’s values of equity and inclusion every day.
His formal job duties in Schmidt and Killinger halls run the gamut from fixing jammed windows and clogged shower drains to figuring out why electrical outlets don’t work and, once, putting back together a bed that collapsed. But, informally, Countee is a mentor and father figure to innumerable students.
“We can count on Hank, he is here for the residents and here for the staff,” says Alexis Washington, a graduate assistant in Killinger who is enrolled in the Higher Education Counseling/Student Affairs program. “Anyone you would ask would say the same thing.”
“Hank always has the time to stop and talk to you about what’s going on in your life,” she adds. “He listens and you know he really cares.”
Sometimes the conversations are about day to day life – whether a student studied enough for his calculus exam or how another one did at her gymnastics meet. But, other times, the conversations get deep.
“After the racial unrest in Ferguson, I had some students want to talk to me about what was going on,” recalls Countee. “I told them what it was like growing up in Virginia; I remember colored and white water fountains. I also encouraged them to dig into history and learn about the people who have paved the way. We need unity, not division, in the face of injustice.”
Countee says his faith is what drives him to “do whatever I can to help someone have a better day.”
As he strides through Schmidt and Killinger, calling out greetings to every student he sees, it is clear that Hank Countee believes in the inherent worth of each person.
The inherent worth of each person is one of six key equity principles at West Chester University. As our strategic plan, Building on Excellence, notes, the University is committed to upholding:
Hank Countee is one of many WCU employees working to create an environment in which every member of the University community feels fully welcome. For some, it’s written into their job description, for others, like Countee, it’s understood to be part of their job description.
To get the pulse on equity and inclusion efforts university-wide, a Campus Climate survey – WCU’s second such assessment – was conducted in fall 2015. Results will be available by the end of spring semester. This information will provide guidance to University leaders on what WCU is doing right in equity and inclusion initiatives, and what needs to be improved.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs is getting it right, when it comes to growing and enhancing its programming for underrepresented students. The office’s Mentoring Program has more than 200 multicultural participants.
The program helps participants acquire the skills they need to acclimate to a university campus and increases their awareness of campus resources. It’s designed to improve their self-advocacy skills and help them gain a greater appreciation for the value of connections and interdependence. Participants are introduced to positive role models, students as well as professionals.
“Mentors use the ‘challenge and support’ model with their mentees,” explains Jerome “Skip” Hutson, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “We support the students first, and give them a safe space to feel comfortable and know they can access information. Then, when it’s needed, we challenge them. For example, if they are feeling isolated, we challenge them to join a student organization and try new activities with other students.”
For seven years, the office has presented a Multicultural Leaders Conference. This past year 135 students participated, the highest number ever. New additions to the conference include an alumni panel so students can learn from, and network with, successful graduates.
The Office of Admission has developed a number of initiatives to reach more prospective minority students, both first year and transfer students. Admissions invites community based organizations that serve diverse populations to visit WCU throughout the academic year. Current partnerships include: College Possible, Minds Matter, Upward Bound - Montgomery County, Philadelphia Futures, Chester County Futures and Y-Achievers.
In addition to regularly scheduled campus tours and group visits, the Office of Admissions hosts special events geared to underrepesented students, such as Check Us Out Day and Shadow Day for first-year families and Discover WCU for transfer students. These events, in conjunction with personal outreach, have produced successful outcomes as West Chester University continues to create a more diverse campus community.
WCU’s presence at the State System’s Philadelphia campus also is proving to be another important way to attract students from a variety of educational, cultural, and economic backgrounds. About 74 percent of WCU students at the Center City campus are underrepresented minorities.
Another type of diversity is represented by WCU’s military members, from those enrolled in our ROTC program to student veterans. West Chester University has been designated a Military Friendly School by Victory Media because of the high standard we set in services to our military members. members. The Veterans Center, which opened in 2011, works with other campus units to provide military and their families with a coordinated system of support. In late March, the center was re-named the Greg R. and Sandra L. Weisenstein Veterans Center in honor of President Weisenstein and his wife, Sandra, for their extraordinary work on behalf of WCU’s military members.
When President Weisenstein arrived at WCU, there were only six ROTC cadets; today our 55-member Delta Company is one of the largest in the “Dauntless Battalion” – a multi-campus ROTC program. President Weisenstein also worked to secure additional funding sources for military scholarships – in the last year alone we have grown scholarships for ROTC students by $20,000 and scholarships for returning veterans by an additional $10,000.