Gator News

Building an Umoja Community at GRC

By Philip Denman, February 15, 2024

Umoja (Ooo-moe’-jah), a Kiswahili word meaning unity, is a community and critical resource dedicated to student success through enhancing the cultural and educational experiences of African American and other students. Umoja Communities serve more than 5,000 students annually, with more than 70 colleges participating nationally.

“Bringing Umoja to GRC is a huge statement about our support for our Black and African American students,” Katrice Cyphers, co-chair of GRC’s Black Caucus and project lead for Umoja, said. “It says, ‘we see the data of how we’re not recruiting or retaining Black students’ and that we’re willing to do something about it.”

Through its community-based design, Umoja connects students and community members to share the cultural and educational experiences of African Americans and other students.

But implementing the Umoja Program at GRC is more than a shift in instructional practices; the tenants of the program, combined with GRC’s focus on equity and the goal of antiracism, necessarily involves several divisions, including student-facing, service, and administrative offices. Therefore, this project involves partners across campus.

According to Cyphers, who also serves as GRC’s assistant director of Recruitment & Outreach, this is a key component in not only recruiting students but keeping them at Green River College until they complete their personal educational goals.

“Umoja looks at students as a whole person and seeks to help educate them on who they are as people while helping them pursue their academic and career goals,” Cypher explained.

Professional development and training will be provided across campus to those interested in exploring Umoja’s framework as practice, whether holistically or focusing on selected tenants. The objective of these training courses is to not only spread awareness of Umoja’s principles, but to have GRC faculty and staff who are looking for equity-centered strategies to mindfully implement these elements into their practices. Reaching out and sharing in this way has a positive impact on not only Black, African American, and African students in the program, but all GRC students.

Work toward building an Umoja Community at Green River College began during the 2023 summer term after receiving funding through Guided Pathways. During the fall 2023 and winter 2024 terms, the team has focused grouped Black, African American and Africa Diaspora students; worked on articulation with Historically Black Colleges and Universities; attended the Umoja National Conference in California; worked with faculty members to develop curriculum for Math with Criminal Justice, Social Science and Counselor supporting.

The GRC Black Caucus hopes to attend the Umoja Summer Leadership Institute and complete the application process during the summer 2024 term with a goal of launching the first Umoja student cohort in fall 2025.

For more information about Umoja, visit:

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