June 24, 2003
The student body at Harrisburg Area Community College is now more diverse than ever in the 39-year history of the college. At the end of this spring semester, students who are African American, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian comprised 17% of HACC's student body, or about 2,130 students. Based on census data, the percentage of people of color attending any of HACC's four campuses exceeds the general population.

"Inclusion and an environment which promotes understanding of diverse backgrounds are important elements in higher education," says Jennifer Thompson, who joined HACC last fall as interim director of the Multicultural Affairs Office. "Those practices at HACC prepare our students for the global community that we are living in, which is continually changing and becoming more diverse. HACC is making good progress with regard to a diverse student population."

At the Wildwood Campus in Harrisburg, 18% of the student body classify themselves as non-white. The resident ethnic population of the tri-county area of Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry Counties where most of HACC students at the Wildwood Campus come from is less than 10% (2000 U.S. Census).

HACC's Lancaster Campus, in Lancaster County with a non-white population of 8.5%, has an ethnic population of 17%. Though a smaller number of ethnic groups attend the Gettysburg Campus (6.7% of students at that campus), it still exceeds the general people of color population of Adams County (4.6%) and comes close to York County (7.2%). A large Hispanic population at HACC's Lebanon Campus contributes to the11.4% total ethnic student population. The resident ethnic group population is 5.5% in Lebanon County.

"Much of what we are trying to achieve - an environment of inclusion - is a factor," says Thompson. "More students of diverse backgrounds may find a comfort level here because we strive to appreciate and understand multiculturalism and ethnicity throughout the College."

Several significant projects have helped bring a higher level of awareness and appreciation for the many cultures represented at HACC. Some of the new additions are fun and "bring the students together, like the Stompdown in February," observes Thompson. "My guess is more than half the College didn't know what a Stompdown was and now they are looking forward to the next one. It may not be generally known that a stompdown, or stepshow, is a tradition among African-American college students where fraternities compete in drill and dance routines. Events like the Stompdown, put together entirely by students, definitely enhances the student life aspect of college, though we also need the balance, and concentrate on academics, too."

HACC's Mentoring for Success program is one such project based on educational success.

"Young men of color face many obstacles, perhaps economic or societal, in their struggle to become full participants in today's society," Thompson remarks. "HACC is dedicated in improving the retention and graduation rates of these students."

In order to fulfill their academic and personal goals, male students of color in the Mentoring for Success program are willing to seek and accept guidance and encouragement. They meet on a regular basis with concerned adults who are trained to offer the students support, guidance, and encouragement. With their greater knowledge and life experience, mentors help students navigate through the everyday challenges of college, society and the community.

Thompson adds that this year also marked a number of new additions that encourage a higher understanding of multiculturalism for HACC students. Mexican storyteller Gregorio Pedroza brought his original stories and folk tales to the Wildwood and Gettysburg Campuses, events recognizing African American History Month were held in February, and students could attend leadership workshops focusing on self esteem, healing and leading with soul during Women's History Month in March.

"We're here in support of students, to make the student groups more visible," says Thompson. "Because of the level of involvement by students and staff, I'd say it makes sense more students of diverse backgrounds feel comfortable here."

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