NAACP suggests changes at UK College of Medicine to help minority students

The University of Kentucky College of Medicine is reviewing a series of recommendations made by the Lexington chapter of the NAACP to improve recruitment and retention of black and Hispanic students.

Among other things, the college should hire an independent evaluator to monitor student progress and create better diversity training for employees, the NAACP said in a May 24 letter that came after a meeting in late April between UK officials and the NAACP.

The meeting "resulted in an ongoing partnership and open lines of communication between the Lexington-Fayette County NAACP and the College of Medicine to address the challenges and goal of increasing African American and Hispanic medical professionals," Shambra Mulder, the education chairwoman of the NAACP, said in an email last week to the involved parties.

The college is still reviewing the recommendations, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

"We are very appreciative of the dialogue with the NAACP on these critically important matters and everyone involved pledged to continue those discussions going forward," he said. "We are very committed as an institution and a College of Medicine to that process."

Questions about diversity within the college were initially raised last year by Lachin Hatemi, a 2009 graduate of the college, who claimed that UK had forced minority students out of the College of Medicine.

UK and the NAACP still disagree over the percentage of minority students at the college in the past decade; the NAACP says it is between 1 and 3 percent, while UK says it is between 3 and 5 percent. This past year, UK officials said, there were six black students out of 118, a rate of 5 percent.

In the letter, NAACP chapter president James Thurman said UK officials told the NAACP that minority recruitment is hampered by lower scores on medical school entrance exams known as MCATs, and by a lack of financial assistance that other schools can offer students.

The NAACP recommended that UK improve MCAT preparation strategies for existing recruitment programs and find more funding to increase minority recruitment. The group also recommended an outside evaluator to monitor minority students' concerns and progress, and so those students can report concerns without fear of retaliation.

The letter also speaks of the NAACP's concern about the lack of racial diversity in the faculty and staff of the College of Medicine, and the fact that sensitivity training in only done online.

"We believe this to be insufficient and ineffective if the College plans to address cultural sensitivity and improve the image of the program regarding African American and Hispanic American students," the letter said. "We recommend that the UK College of Medicine participate in a series of 'face-to-face' training with experts in the field of multicultural education, cultural sensitivity, and the recruitment/success of racial minorities in college."

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