Small Campus Makes Big Progress in Addressing Racial Inequities

March 29, 2019

MCLA Men of Color Initiative

MCLA's Men of Color Initiative poses with bestselling author Ta-Nehesi Coates in November 2018 prior to MCLA's annual Michael S. and Kitty Dukakis Public Policy Lecture. 

Small Campus Makes Big Progress in Addressing Racial Inequities


It’s long been known that black students are underrepresented in higher education. Since at least the 1980s when the National Center for Education Statistics began collecting data, the percentage of college-age black men and women has been disproportionately low compared to the percentage of the overall black population. Among adults in Massachusetts, for example, there is a 35-percentage point gap between the college attainment rates of white females (65%) and black males (30%).

But Mass College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is working to change such racial disparities within its student population.

Ranked first in the nation for serving black students in a 2018 University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, MCLA is making purposeful strides to address the racial disparities that exists on America’s campuses. It was one of only three schools in the nation to earn top marks—supported by Massachusetts’ public higher education system which was ranked first among all 50 states in the USC report, “Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities.”

Using a holistic approach across departments, school administrators understand that MCLA must not only attract black students to apply, they must create an environment where those students can persist in their studies and graduate.

The USC study evaluated all four-year public universities individually and each state as a whole using four criteria for:

  • establishing an even ratio between the percentage of the 18 – 24 black population in the university’s state to the school’s black undergraduate student body;
  • a proportionate enrollment of black women and men students to the overall percentage of women and men nationwide—56 percent women to 44 percent men;
  • how closely the overall six-year graduation rate of black students aligns with the school’s overall graduation rate; and
  • the ratio of black students to black full-time professors. 

This dedication to equity and inclusion is important across the MCLA campus.

While MCLA has been recognized for making great strides, administrators understand this is only the beginning in addressing generations of racial, gender, social, and cultural disparities on college campuses.

“We are thrilled that black students graduate on par with white students, but now we want to understand, what is their experience on campus?” said Dr. Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, chief diversity officer at MCLA. “What is the climate like for black students? We are now asking those questions and responding to what we discover. Moreover, we want to begin looking at retention and graduation rates for other social groups as well. How do our Latinx students fare, poor and working-class white students? We are already following up on our successes by looking closely at what the USC report and others have actually measured—committing ourselves to going further.”