Xavier University of Louisiana, which is located a mile from downtown New Orleans, has an enrollment of just under 3,000 students — but it’s having a major effect on the advancement of Black students and community members.
The only historically Black Roman Catholic institution is a top producer among the nation’s colleges and universities in the number of Black graduates who go on to complete medical school, according to data recently released by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Xavier is even outpacing Ivy League schools and large state universities.
From 2013 to 2018, 147 Xavier African-American graduates completed medical school. In the past four years, under the leadership of President Dr. C. Reynold Verret, there has been an almost 21% increase in first-year students and retention grew by 3%.
Dr. Verret said the relevance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is both symbolic and structural.
“Structurally, we educate a much larger fraction of African-American talent,” he told DiversityInc. “We are producing talent that the nation needs.”
He said that Xavier is expanding science-based education programs, including neuroscience and physician assistant programs. Dr. Verret’s own educational background is in the sciences, having earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
There’s currently a nationwide diversity gap in medicine — only 10.3 percent of medical school graduates are Black and Latino, a number that hasn’t changed much in half a century. The number of Black male medical students peaked in 1978 and has been falling ever since.
But Xavier is rivaling larger universities on diversifying the medical field, which contributes to alleviating racial disparities in the health care system.
“We know that within certain populations, that we have people with similar medical, socioeconomic factors and even educational standards,” Dr. Verret explained.
“But what you find is that the health outcomes are different, significantly, regarding African-Americans and I would think for other Brown communities as well.
“Having a diverse medical system clearly leads to better medical outcomes.”
Creating a Pipeline for Achievement
Changes begin when the diversity gap in medicine is viewed as a pipeline issue.
“In speaking to medical colleges, we all understand that the real issue is the pipeline issue that begins in the grammar schools,” Dr. Verret said. “What we’re doing or not doing in education is having ramifications further down the pipeline.”
So, in addition to creating an education foundation for African-American medical school graduates, Xavier is reaching into its surrounding community to create a pipeline for achievement.
The university’s Center for Equity, Justice, and the Human Spirit was created to address the current sociopolitical climate and the increasing marginalization of people of color. A recent $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will go toward the Xavier Educational Equity Workforce Pipeline Program, which seeks to increase teachers of color diversity within the state and parish public school systems — with a focus on increasing Black males within the pipeline. A recent report found the teacher workforce is only comprised of 2% Black males.
“Over the next three foundational years, we will focus our efforts on impacting policy, changing practice, and inspiring purpose within the areas of PK-16 education, the criminal justice system, and environmental justice/sustainability,” Dr. David Robinson-Morris, the center’s founding director, told DiversityInc.
“Like HBCUs and Xavier’s own founding, the Center is born out of necessity –– the necessity of our current sociopolitical climate and the increasing marginalization of minority communities.
“More particularly, the gap is widening among the have and the have nots, and along ethnic and racial lines within the three foundational areas of interest.
“The Center seeks to utilize the knowledge we produce at Xavier, radical dialogue, implementable research, and community-based solutions to begin to close the opportunity gaps.”
According to Dr. Verret, “The Center expands Xavier’s reach and engagement in New Orleans and how Xavier gives to the community-at-large.”
He said that outreach summer programs in high schools and some middle schools will be expanded while providing “resources for young, Black males in our region to persist and actually aspire to higher education.”