Center for Academic Equity supports excellence for underserved students


courtesy of Paula Burch-Celentano

Tulane faculty members and affiliates speak at the opening of the Center for Academic Equity on Feb. 13 outside Robert C. Cudd Hall.

In response to disparities faced by students in the LGBTQ+ community, students of color and first-generation college students, the Center for Academic Equity was born.

Students gathered on Feb. 13 outside Robert C. Cudd Hall to hear President Michael Fitts and Robin Forman, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, host the opening of the center, which is currently located in F. Edward Herbert Hall but will have a larger home in the future.

Tulane professor Rebecca Mark and the center’s senior program coordinator, Paula Booke, lead the Center for Academic Equity. It supports academic excellence and equity for participants of initiatives such as Posse, College Track and First-Generation College, as well as LGBTQ+ students, students of color and ethnic minorities.

“The Center for Academic Equity is a product of the president’s task force on the undergraduate experience,” Booke said. “Professor Rebecca Mark and Dr. Dusty Porter co-chaired the task force which conducted extensive research on the life course of the Newcomb-Tulane College student body. The study highlighted several deficits faced by students who are LGBTQ, students of color and first-generation college students.”

The Center for Academic Equity is Tulane’s response to these deficits on the academic end. While the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity have provided a space where these students can come together, there has not been an academic office devoted to these students until now.

“In the short term, we would like to increase the number of students from underserved populations who participate in study abroad, internships, conference attendance/participation, undergraduate research and performances,” Booke said.

The Center for Academic Equity will bring guest speakers to contribute to Tulane’s academic environment through “Equity Thursdays” which will feature presentations by invited guests from the greater New Orleans area. The weekly event will take place in Hebert Hall Room 125D.

“[Equity Thursday] sessions discuss cutting edge research, distinctive academic opportunities and offer a forum for reflection on the intersection of identity and the academic experience,” Booke said.

The center also plans to open a dialogue about food security on college campuses, create a new summer experience allowing students to preview popular math and science courses and receive college credits and create a home of sorts for first-generation college students, according to Booke. The center will also expand its summer program to include research grants and internship opportunities for upperclassmen.

At a university that is mostly white in terms of student demographics, the center’s focus on minority students and marginalized communities is important for students.

“Tulane is traditionally a very white campus, so I think this is definitely a step in the right direction,” freshman Yichi Zhang said. “I think I still have some concerns about how [the center] would work in practice and what effects it would really have.”

The Center for Academic Equity has a long road ahead, but its leaders hope that it will bring inclusivity and collaboration to Tulane’s campus.

“I just want students to know how welcome they are to come to our programs,” Mark said. “We’d love to hear from them. We’d love to hear if there’s something we’re really doing wrong, if there’s something we can add.”

Lily Milwit and Josh Axelrod contributed to the reporting of this article.

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