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'I realized I had more of a soul and heart and passion for higher education'

Aug. 15, 2013

Carl Darnell grew up living in a trailer with eight members of his family and sleeping on a couch with three of his brothers in Huntsville, Ala.

College was a luxury for Darnell, now a student at the School of Education at IU earning his Ph.D. in higher education. Now, Darnell wants to show others what higher education can do to improve their lives.

Carl Darnell

School of Education doctoral student Carl Darnell is working to get minority students more involved in campus activities. | Photo By Linda Hanek

“In my junior year of undergrad I realized I had more of a soul and heart and passion for higher education,” Darnell said. “That’s the place where I found the majority of my opportunities. I had come up with a plan to work in higher education. I wanted to go to every different region in the United States and work at every different type of college.”

After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Tennessee State University, Darnell worked at Colin College in Dallas. His plan is to combine what he’s learned from different institutions and bring that knowledge to a Historically Black College or University in the south.

“When I got to IU for orientation, I walked into a small classroom with 12 to 14 students, and four of them were black, and I thought, ‘This is fantastic.’ It’s a very diverse program,” Darnell said. Still, he wants to see more overall diversity in the student population at IU, as well as more support programs for minority students.

As a graduate assistant and mentor in the Hudson & Holland Scholars Program, Darnell works with undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups. His efforts have led to more minority staff members at the Hudson & Holland Program as well as more minority students involved in campus committees.

One thing he has observed is that black students in the Midwest approach race differently than students who grew up in the South.

“What I’ve learned from talking to my students is what appeals to them and what doesn’t. When I was in Alabama, Texas and Tennessee, I could say something to my students like, ‘Hey, guys, the black student group is about to have a program and you should come out.’ And they would get really excited and say ‘Yes, we’re coming.'

"Here, when I’ve said, ‘Hey, guys, there’s about to be a program for black students at the culture center,’ students would start frowning -- my black students -- and they would say, ‘Yeah, I don’t know about that,’” he said. “I’ve had to learn to make a different kind of appeal for black students in the Midwest to get them involved.”

His goal is to help students feel comfortable talking about race, as well as to increase the awareness of minority students on campus.

For guidance on how to help minority students, Darnell looked to Ghangis DeDan Carter, director of recruitment and retention for underrepresented students at the IU School of Education, and Gerardo González, the school's dean.

“Dean González has always been a big proponent of diversity,” he said. “I’ve valued his views and opinions as I tried to get students more involved in advocacy for underrepresented students.”

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