During the 1960s and 1970s, Oakland, California was an epicenter for rising social justice groups. In Oakland 1966, the Black Panther Party was created as a militant defense group for minority communities in the United States. After the death of a young Chicano youth by Oakland Police in 1968, the Latinos United for Justice Association organized to combat police brutality. Needless to say, Oakland, California produced a series of progressive groups headed by the ambitions of forward thinkers against the oppressions produced in American society. Activists such as Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale originated from the California city, fighting as leaders within their communities for the rights and recognition of underrepresented groups.
Our own Truth Hunter, Director of Race and Ethnicity Programs, also originates from the city of Oakland. Growing up, she was surrounded by the narratives of these leaders and the culturally diverse and progressive nature of her community.
Hunter’s departure from the West Coast for the East began with an educational opportunity. She attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, receiving a degree in Critical Social Thought with a focus on Colonialism and a Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of Connecticut. Prior to her arrival at Conn, she worked as an Assistant Director of Educational Opportunity Programs at Bard College. Early in her academic career her experience as a minority and first generation college student at Mount Holyoke—a predominantly white institution—allowed her to understand the difficulties of managing in a foreign environment, and she recalls the “pressures” she underwent as a result. Her experience forged what she calls a “scholarly confidence,” a term signifying personal achievement which she hopes underrepresented students at Conn will aspire to achieve with the support of Unity House.
Hunter’s arrival at Conn was an appropriate change to the untimely departure of last semester’s Unity House Directors. The departure left students involved in the House without a definite structure. The directorial work from Unity fell onto Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight and Unity House administrative assistant Dulmarie Irizarry. Hunter’s arrival filled this void in Unity House and was met with praise. Unity House student ambassador Nifemi Olugbemiga ’20 acclaims Hunter’s “fresh perspective” and predicts that her future successes will prove “a strong positive force” on campus. Similarly, McKnight praised Hunter’s ability to understand the needs of students.
Though her presence is already a recognizable distinction within Unity House, the new title of her position signifies further revamping. While former directors have been titled Director of Unity House, the new title, Director of Race and Ethnicity Programs, reflects new expectations of the director. The modification in title “symbolizes a focus on responsibility” said McKnight, as it widens the obligations of the Director position from solely the happenings within the Unity House to the larger community.
In establishing aims that apply to Conn on a larger scale, Hunter proposed three main ambitions for this academic year. Firstly, she has hopes to “meet with as many students as possible.” Accordingly, many students have already participated in a discussion or have received an email proposing a discussion time with faculty in Unity House. During these conversations, Unity House aims to provide holistic advising, a developmental process which focuses on the whole student by recognizing their emotional, social, financial, cultural, and ethnic standings. Further embodying the concept of holistic advising, Hunter expresses the importance of wellness and self-care as a vital part of fulfilling the entire being.
Secondly, Hunter intends to negate typical assumptions of Unity House’s purpose. Even though it acts as a supportive space for underrepresented students, it is a space for all students of the Conn community.
Thirdly, Unity House plans to execute an End of the Year Assessment Project to acknowledge and display progress to the entirety of the Conn community. During the academic year, assessments will be carried out in the form of “family meetings” which will consist of a group of both faculty and students. In conversation, Hunter acknowledged the previous disregard for student opinions within the administrative spectrum of Unity House. She deems her position as a “facilitator” of the House and advocate for students, rather than an inflexible authority. She stressed the importance of student empowerment within the environment, saying “It does not matter what I want…I’ve had my [undergraduate] experience.”
Hunter is not undergoing this process alone, as Irizarry and graduate-student assistant Graciela Guzman have strongly aided in the changing processes and professional actions within Unity House. Hunter advises students to take advantage of the Unity House space, as staff are currently discussing new usages for the space and announcing new activities intended to support the campus community in becoming more inclusive.