72-Year-Old Black Woman Has a Difficult Task of Recruiting Black Students for an Almost All White University

For the past 17 years Betty Chavis has served as director of outreach and multicultural programs at Michigan Technological University. Now 72 years old, Chavis has an extremely difficult job. The university, located in Houghton on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a world away from the housing projects in Detroit where she grew up. Harsh winters and an almost all white local population are the norm on the Upper Peninsula. After nearly two decades, Chavis has not found anyone who can cut her hair to her satisfaction.

When Chavis arrived on campus in 1989 there were only 17 black students. Today there are 126. But even this tremendous progress is tempered by the fact that blacks are still less than 2 percent of the student body. Furthermore, only 16 percent of black undergraduate students earn their diploma within six years.

Chavis graduated from high school in Detroit at age 15. She enrolled at Wayne State University but dropped out to study dance in New York City. She returned to Detroit and opened a dress shop while returning to school to earn a degree in communications. Before coming to Michigan Tech she worked in city government and as an aide to the leader of the Michigan State Senate.

Chavis currently oversees a staff of five who recruit black students from high schools in Detroit, Chicago, and other cities. She recently told the Detroit Free Press that when recruiting black students to come to the predominantly white university in a cold climate, she tells them, “My Daddy told me, you won’t learn anything hanging around only black people.”