Southwestern University has received a $100,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue a program it started four years ago to promote student exchanges between two predominantly white universities and three historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Other universities involved with the project are Dillard University in New Orleans, Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Morehouse College in Atlanta and Rhodes College in Memphis.

The program, which is called Engaged Diversity, gives students at participating institutions the opportunity to participate in yearly conferences that explore issues related to diversity and to participate in semester or yearlong “tuition neutral” student exchanges.  

Since the program started, more than 50 students have participated in leadership workshops held on the various campuses. Two students have participated in exchange programs: a student from Morehouse College spent a semester at Southwestern in 2008 and a student from Southwestern is spending this semester at Dillard University.  

Students who participate in the annual conferences are expected to return home and implement diversity projects on their campuses. For example, at Dillard University, students started a program to recruit and retain more male students. The university currently has a student body that is 74 percent female and 26 percent male. Southwestern started a program to recruit and retain minority students in general. Huston-Tillotson started a program to help make international students – particularly those from Latin America – feel more welcome on campus.  

“The Engaged Diversity project has enabled five diverse institutions of higher education to successfully collaborate in order to expand the learning experiences for their students,” said Ron Swain, senior advisor to the president for strategic planning and assessment at Southwestern. “This would not have occurred without this grant.” Swain serves as director of the Engaged Diversity project. The project is run by a board that includes representatives from each institution. 

The new funding from the Mellon Foundation will enable the program to continue for another three years. During this period program leaders say they hope to encourage more students to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the exchange program. In the future, students who are selected for this opportunity will be known as Andrew W. Mellon Student Exchange Fellows and will receive $500 per semester to help defray the costs of travel to another campus.  

Swain said at least one other college has expressed an interest in joining the project. 

Creating formal alliances with historically black colleges and universities is one of the goals in Southwestern’s Strategic Plan for 2010.