Three Tarleton seniors speak to increase in Hispanic, Black enrollment
STEPHENVILLE, Texas—When Lura Rylant and Ana Gutierrez-Perez started their search for the perfect four-year university, they had specific requirements in mind. Quality education. Strong career and earnings potential.
They also wanted to feel valued.
And they wanted to make a difference.
They chose Tarleton State University, quietly tucked away in Stephenville, Texas. Not the most likely choice for minority teens with their sights set on a big university.
Lura, president of Tarleton’s Student Government Association, comes from a black-white-Native American background. Ana is the association’s first Hispanic vice president (and Ms. TSU 2015). Their stories demonstrate the university’s commitment to student success and higher education access. Both graduate this month.
The number of Hispanic students is up 23 percent for the school year. Black student enrollment is up 7 percent.
For Lura—a communications major from Coleman, Texas—Tarleton’s Stephenville campus has a warm yet structured family feel.
“The moment I walked into the Tarleton Welcome Center, I knew I was home,” she said. “Everyone made me feel important. Student tour guides talked about Tarleton’s pride, tradition and core values. Faculty and staff took a genuine interest in me and my educational goals. By the time I left that first visit, I was sold.”
It took Ana, who grew up in Fort Worth, a little longer before she saw, in her words, “the magic of Tarleton.” The history/political science major was drawn to larger schools, and her parents questioned whether Tarleton could provide the quality of education they wanted for their daughter.
Now they’re proud that Ana is a Tarleton Texan and that her younger sister plans to follow her lead this fall.
“They’re grateful for the true college experience that I’ve received,” Ana said. “Classes are just the right size, faculty and staff provide individual attention, and there are so many opportunities for hands-on learning.”
Ana and Lura are quick to praise Tarleton’s commitment to civility.
“Tarleton is a compassionate and compellingly diverse community,” Lura pointed out. “I’ve never felt anything but welcomed and comfortable. Tarleton is a place where individuals feel free to exchange ideas and share opinions—a place to learn from one another in a respectful way.”
University leaders understand that simply adding a mix of people to a homogeneous campus does not in itself create intellectual stimulation. That understanding drives Tarleton’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to educate and empower every member of the university community regardless of differences.
“We embrace the opportunity to learn from each other,” explained the office’s director, Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason. “We realize that a full spectrum of experiences, viewpoints and intellectual approaches enriches our conversation and benefits everyone—challenging us to grow and think in new ways.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion promotes a range of activities, from speakers and events to cultural festivities and mentoring.
Each February, students are encouraged to overcome obstacles, complete their higher education and become social change agents as part of Black History Month. A diversity dialogue takes place each March in honor of Women’s History Month, and Tarleton’s annual Hispanic Heritage Street Dance includes educational and interactive experiences that promote diversity and inclusion.
Lura and Ana can testify to the value of these programs. So can criminal justice major Andre McQuitty Jr. from Pflugerville, Texas. He’ll graduate this December because his MENtal Freedom peers and advisers refused to let him quit.
Started three years ago within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, MENtal Freedom urges underrepresented males to improve their lives and the lives of others by getting a college degree. It boasts a 90 percent graduation rate in light of the sobering statistic that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 30 percent of African-American and Latino men nationwide have college degrees.
When he decided a year ago to jump ship, Andre’s MENtal Freedom peers and advisers asked him for one more semester.
“They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” he said.
Dr. Helvie-Mason brought the idea for MENtal Freedom with her when she joined Tarleton in 2012. With the help of Tarleton alumnus Dr. Reggie Hall, she’s created a mentoring program that focuses on accountability and strives to change the status quo. The program started with a dozen members and has grown to 41.
MENtal Freedom joins Tarleton’s chapter of Kappa Delta Chi, one of the strongest Latina sororities in the country; the Gay-Straight Alliance; the Academically High Achievers (AHA!) Mentoring Program for first-generation university students; and Students as Parents in championing a supportive environment where the dignity of all people is paramount.
Even new minor degree programs in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts—Ethnic and Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Hispanic Studies—proclaim the extent to which rural Tarleton State University wants to be an open door to all that’s out there.
“Students, faculty and staff don’t see Ana Gutierrez-Perez the Hispanic student who grew up in Mexico then moved to Fort Worth or Lura Rylant a black-white-Native American,” Ana explained. “They see Ana and Lura, two Tarleton Texans who have the potential to make the world a better place.
“As we graduate this month, we’ll do what all Tarleton Texans do regardless of skin color or gender or ideologies. We’ll bleed purple.”
Tarleton, a member of The Texas A&M University System, provides a student-focused, value-driven educational experience marked by academic innovation and exemplary service, and dedicated to transforming students into tomorrow’s professional leaders. With campuses in Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian and online, Tarleton engages with its communities to provide real-world learning experiences and to address societal needs while maintaining its core values of integrity, leadership, tradition, civility, excellence and service.