Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Keene Ally

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Keene Ally

Article excerpt

Keene State College made the news in a big way when a riot broke out among hundreds of local and visiting students who were drawn to the small city in honor of Pumpkin Fest weekend in 2014. Pumpkin Fest was an annual tradition in bucolic Keene, New Hampshire. The festival was celebrated in advance of Halloween every October with a display of a world-record-setting collection of carved and lit jack-o'-lanterns, which were on show throughout the city.

Although the event was primarily designed for families, in the years leading up to the incident in 2014, it had increasingly drawn students from all over New England who reputedly viewed it as a party weekend. Many Keene State students volunteered to participate in the city cleanup afterward.

Nevertheless, because the event occurred in Keene, the college received national attention.

At the time, Keene's vice president for student affairs and enrollment, Dr. Kemal Atkins, had only been in his new position for a few months. He took the event in stride and it has since faded into the background, he says. "In student affairs, we're kind of trained to expect the unexpected," Atkins comments in a phone conversation with Diverse.

As the college has moved on, so has the city: the Keene City Council voted to reject a permit to hold the festival in 2015.

For Atkins, there is far greater work at hand. As the state's only public liberal arts college, Keene is a unique institution in New Hampshire with a distinctive mission. It serves a student population that is more than 40 percent first generation to college.

Often, first-generation students come to college without the same supports and roadmaps in place that some of their peers might have. In response, Keene State has stepped up to take on that guiding role, Atkins says. The college, which became a partner with the I'm First program of the Center for Student Opportunity in 2014, focuses on the entirety of the student experience, from recruitment to retention and graduation.

Keene State established an enrollment management structure in the Division of Student Affairs to form the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. The institution recently created an academic and co-curricular plan anchored by the expansion of its Living Learning Communities from three to 11 and the construction of a 349-bed Living/Learning residence hall.

The Living/Learning Communities are residential buildings dedicated to specific disciplines, such as women's and gender studies, or nature and sustainability. …

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