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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

One UC Davis advisor’s role in establishing the student retention and community centers

How Kayton Carter advocated for cultural centers that today provide community and resources to underrepresented students


By MARIA MARTINEZ CASTRO  — features@theaggie.org 


Student community and retention centers on campus are communal spaces where students of color, often the most underserved and underrepresented populations in higher education, can access resources to succeed as scholars and prioritize their well-being. 

While centers like the Center for African Diaspora Student Success (CADSS), the Native American Academic Student Success Center (NASSC) and the Center for Chicanx Latinx Academic Student Success (CCLASS) are now part of the normal and natural makeup of UC Davis, that has not always been the case. Their development and establishment is fairly new, as none of the centers have yet to meet their 10-year anniversary.

The journey to establish retention centers for underrepresented students started in 2015 with the opening of CADSS. Kayton Carter, now the Executive Director of Academic Advising Enrichment at UC Davis, is the founding director of CADSS, the campus’s first retention initiative targeting underrepresented student populations. 

According to Carter, CADSS was the initial “seed” planted to continue to grow centers to serve other underrepresented communities such as the Chicanx/Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander and Native American communities. Carter is the seed-bearer for CADSS’s establishment and gave the initial push for the establishment of CCLASS and NASSC. 

Carter joined UC Davis in 2012 as an academic advisor for the African American Studies Department, but he said that the expectations of this position prevented him from fully addressing student needs. 

“In my previous position as an academic advisor for African American Studies, only 50% of my job was dedicated to the major,” Carter said. “So I’m 50% advisor, 50% Student Affairs Officer. The 50% Student Affairs Officer role entailed maintaining a pulse on the retention of the Black student population. And I realized that a task of this magnitude needed to be more than 50% of someone’s position description.” 

According to Carter, that is when he began having conversations with colleagues from Native American Studies, Chicanx Studies and Middle East/South Asian Studies about the declining rates of retention of these student populations. 

Carter says that as a graduate student at Michigan State University, he remembered the Office of Minority Student Affairs. He began to question why UC Davis did not have that model for underrepresented students, too. 

“The centers have to have a mission,” Carter said. “They have to be, in my opinion, addressing a gap in services, addressing a need within the student population. That gap [is] support services for underperforming students of color to increase [their] retention and graduation rates.” 

Carter said that before establishing the physical centers for students to congregate and receive services, he first had to write the African American Strategic Retention Initiative. 

“The initiative is what drives the operation of the center,” Carter said. “The center is that communal space where folks can gather, but what you’re doing in that space is informed by the retention initiative […] and so the idea in creating those spaces was to designate an office with staff whose sole responsibility was keeping a finger on the pulse of underrepresented populations on this campus.” 

In order to meet the goal of providing services for students to grow and thrive academically and personally, centers such as CADSS and CCLASS collaborate with other resource groups on campus to provide services such as tutoring, academic advising and counseling. 

“These retention centers are not supposed to do it on their own,” Carter said. “The idea is that when they collaborate, they form a web. The retention centers are at the middle of that web and all of its tentacles, touch the resources on campus, bring them to this space to centralize them so that when a student comes, they can get chemistry tutoring, they can get writing instruction, they can get a mentor [or] they can get food.” 

Carter said that centers catered to minority students in higher education can give them a sense of familiarity and communal understanding. 

“Some of our underrepresented students are in majors where they don’t see a lot of people that look like them,” Carter said. “So if we could devise a mentoring program, such that, when they’re in those classes of 200 or 300 — and it’s only like four or five of them — they can still come back to a center concept for a place of refuge to kind of regroup, rejuvenate and to collaborate, cross reference, share information, maybe gain some insight.” 

Nyla Modeliste, a third-year forensic chemistry major, said that CADSS has been an important aspect of her academic career in gaining community and resources. 

“I feel like it’s important because coming to a PWI [predominantly white institution], it’s kind of hard to find people that look like you,” Modeliste said. “Sometimes, that pressure can be so overwhelming to the point where you feel like you can’t really answer questions or can’t ask for help because you feel like, ‘I need to prove myself.’ […] You have to work twice or thrice as hard. So with those centers, they’ll help you find resources that not many professors will give you right then and there.” 

Francisca Dogbe, a third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, said CADSS has been a space where she feels supported and encouraged throughout her higher education journey. 

“I also do think that it’s a good way to have a safe space,” Dogbe said. “It’s nice to have people that you are surrounded by that kind of know or have gone through similar experiences. It’s very empowering that I can be able to achieve greatness and have all of these people that are cheering me on. It’s all coming down to having a really strong support system.”

According to Carter, students are not monolithic and support within higher education goes beyond the academic; it must encompass the full human experience. 

“There are no limitations to supporting students because we never know what the students’ needs are,” Carter said. “Your ability to go above and beyond, I think, caters to the success of supporting students. And I think students know the difference. They do.” 


Written by: Maria Martinez Castro — features@theaggie.org