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PHOENIX Initiative bolsters minorities

Brooke Hafs, News Writer
May 8, 2013
Filed under News

A new campus program aims to create a nurturing environment for African-American and other minority males on campus.

The PHOENIX Initiative — short for Preeminent, Holistic, Opportunity for Engaging New Ideas in Excellence — is a program designed to acclimate minorities to the educational process at UW-Green Bay.

The mission of the group is to support the educational success of underrepresented and first-generation students in higher education, especially African-American men.

The American Intercultural Center adviser, James Coates, is one of the professors spearheading the campaign. He said they have been working diligently to establish and coordinate the concept, mission and goals of the organization.

“There is always a need for a group like this for a campus where there is a very small minority population,” Coates said.  “African-American males who aren’t athletes have a very low graduation rate.”

Coates said the focus of the initiative is retention.  The program is not necessarily aimed at increasing the number of African-American males going to college, but rather keeping those in college enrolled until they graduate.

It’s a problem African-American men face on many campuses across the nation today. These students often face the same issues at each campus, according to Coates.

“We work with students on academics, individual development, leadership skills and public awareness,” Coates said. “We want them to develop confidence so we don’t necessarily focus on one thing. We help with a wide range of things.”

UWGB American Intercultural Center adviser Shawn Robinson is working with Coates on the new program. He also said the main focus of the group is to create best practices for black males in a collegiate institution.

“It’s an opportunity to get together to talk about things these men experience in a predominantly white campus,”  Robinson said. “We get together to help them navigate the system.”

Robinson said UWGB needs more motivation for the minority population. The African-American population makes up less than 1 percent of a campus of almost 6000 students.

“This program is about creating a sense of ownership on the campus,” Coates said. “It’s about making them feel a part of something so they keep coming back.”

One of the students currently involved in the program is Kinyada Watts, sophomore psychology major. Watts said the program helped him grow over the last year.

“The PHOENIX Initiative is giving me a voice,” Watts said. “My first year here, I wasn’t involved in anything, and it was hard for me to get out in the open. Now, I’m more outspoken and I want to achieve more within my community throughout my remaining years here.”

Watts said because there are so few African-American males on campus, it’s important to get the word out.

“We want to eliminate stereotypes and hopefully make a positive turnaround from it,” Watts said. “People can see that even though we are the minority, we can rise up and be the majority.”

Watts has high hopes that the group’s membership will grow and stand out on campus — a sentiment Robinson agrees with.

“There is a new group of young men coming in next year,” Robinson said. “We’re hoping to get them involved.”

The PHOENIX Initiative is open to all men from a minority group who are interested.

“The program is still in its early stages,” Coates said. “The initiative is continuing to grow and organize itself.”

Several focus orientations this summer will be open to any incoming freshmen interested in joining the PHOENIX Initiative June 5 to 7, 10 and 11 and again August 29 and 30.