Dr. Marla Wyche-Hall is the new director of the African-American Resource and Cultural Center (AARCC). She stepped into the position a year after the previous AARCC director and founder, Sister Paula Powell, left UC Santa Cruz after a career of over two decades. The center focuses on retention of African-American students by creating a community hub, providing students with mentors, workshops, educational programming and peer groups.
City on a Hill Press: What past experiences have prepared you for your new position?
Dr. Marla Wyche-Hall: Coming from the University of New Mexico and working with a similar student population there has prepared me. I just earned my Ph.D and I looked at racial identity and academic success of black students at a predominately white institution. I feel some of the characteristics of this institution cover my dissertation. I understand what it means to be a minority as a student.
CHP: As the new director, what will you prioritize?
Wyche-Hall: My first priority is to really build that sense of community and to connect with students. The leadership has been interesting here, a bit challenging, so I think it’s reaffirming with students we are here for your success. And from there, really letting the students get re-energized about their student groups and really offering support. In addition to getting connected to the community and our alumni, I think it is critical because it’s going to call for creative planning when it comes to budgetary issues and internship issues and preparing ourselves holistically.
CHP: Do you think the AARCC needs any changes?
Wyche-Hall: I would say there is talent, there is energy, there is a foundation there, and I [believe] that the guidance and support has been lacking, and I am glad I can help with that, because the students bring a lot of energy. There is a lot of collective support across campus for the center. I think those are key foundations that are set in place — it’s just about moving forward with leadership.
CHP: With the UC system facing more budget cuts, what is the AARCC doing to continue providing educational resources to its students?
Wyche-Hall: What we’re doing is really reaching out to students, to our community members. We’re looking at co-partnering with various departments and programs on campus, and we’re really looking to engage with our alumni to really promote the mission of the center. We do not want to lose that in midst of a crisis, which is what everyone is going through. We still want to provide top-notch services to our students. In that light, now that we know what the budget is, we can be creative with how we go forward with planning. Tapping into our resources and allies that are on this campus, our community members and our alumni is important. We need to say, “Here are our goals, here are our objectives, here are our programs, and how can we work together to move forward?”
CHP: What can the UC system do to increase the enrollment of African-American students?
Wyche-Hall: The university can be intentional in how they recruit and how they put their name out there, and not just go to the areas where there are college-bound students, but go to a variety of areas and seek out potential, because there is potential in low-income families. There is potential in the ghettos. There is potential all over. I think to put itself apart, this is a special community, it is a special place, and I mean to play those things up, but to be intentional and recruit. It’s going to take tough conversations — almost like airing out our dirty laundry — and understanding where the system is broken. The economic times make it a tough conversation, but a necessary one.
CHP: What can African-American students and other students do to benefit from the resources being offered?
Wyche-Hall: Sometimes it’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone and reading and being engaged, and walking the campus and talking to professors — engaging the alumni, engaging with individuals from different departments and saying, “This is what I want to do.” You need to seize the moment. We want to cater to all students from different backgrounds and abilities. It is not exclusive.