Jackson State University recently became the first historically Black college or university to host the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Undergraduate Fellowship program Dungy Leadership Institute, a week-long initiative that develops future student-affairs professionals.
JSU Dean of Students Laquala Dixon, a NASPA member, said she was not sure why an HBCU had not previously hosted the program that has been in existence since 1919. However, once she knew, she thought it was time to bring the program to one of the “most cutting-edge” institutes in the country.
“As a professional who has over 15 years of experience in student affairs, it’s critical that we engage up-and-coming professionals to understand the holistic entities associated with student affairs,” Dixon told the Mississippi Free Press.
Dixon said HBCUs do not always have the same financial capacity as majority-white institutions to host conference-based programs and events. However, due to the vast differences in experience and culture at HBCUs, the dean of students felt it was critical for undergraduate students interested in student affairs to attain new experiences on a different type of campus.
From June 23 to June 28 of this year, the college hosted 30 fellows from across the United States.
“Throughout the experience, the undergraduate students were able to learn about different components within student affairs,” Dixon said. “There are competency areas through NASPA, which includes personal and ethical foundations; values, philosophy and history; assessment, evaluation and research; law, policy and government; organizational and human resources; leadership; social justice and inclusion; student learning and development; technology, as well as advising and support.”
Dixon and NASPA staff also invited fellows to a night out on the town in Jackson to assist in dispelling some myths and misconceptions many fellows had about Mississippi and southern culture.
“Many of them were very hesitant about coming to the state of Mississippi due to some of the injustices that they’ve seen through the news and other media platforms,” Dixon said. “We actually were able to allow them to have a great experience and (help) them to see Mississippi for themselves.”
Some fellows were not privy to HBCUs before the program. Despite the campus being empty due to summer break, JSU staff were able to offer fellows a taste of the HBCU experience through various video footage of the band, cheerleaders and Greek organizations.
“I would truly like to encourage HBCUs throughout the country because there are often times that we don’t tell our stories because we feel that professionals who work on other types of campuses may not understand or care about some of the great things that we’re doing as higher education professionals,” Dixon said.
The dean of students encourages and advocates for student-affairs professionals at HBCUs to continue to tell their stories because their work is just as important and relevant as those who work at historically white institutions.
The 2024 NASPA Undergraduate Fellowship program will be hosted at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. To apply for next year’s program, visit naspa.org.