The Lioness Barber offers “motherly, auntie, sister advice” to college students. And, a happy ending to Johnny Pippins’s pursuit of clemency.

The Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments.

For Case Western Reserve University’s Black students, finding belonging on campus isn’t always easy. Cleveland is a majority Black city — but Black students make up just 5% of the university’s undergraduate population.

There’s a spot about a mile off-campus, Premier Barber Lounge, that helps the university’s Black students feel more at home.

Sabian Burke goes there to see Shanetta McNair for a trim every other week during the school year. As her moniker the Lioness Barber might suggest, protecting those who sit in her chair is a big deal for her. She offers Burke, and other Black Case Western Reserve students, lots of “motherly, auntie, sister advice.”

Amy Morona, our reporter at Signal Cleveland, spent time with Burke and McNair recently for this lovely feature. It’s a great example of how a college is more than just the buildings on its campus — it’s the surrounding community too.

McNair thinks Case Western Reserve should do more to connect its Black students to the neighborhood around them — like creating a map of nearby family-owned restaurants.

No one gets through anything by themselves. We know that’s especially true when it comes to navigating higher education. I felt like this story, at best, highlighted a non-campus relationship that really might be a difference-maker for some of CWRU’s Black students,” Amy told me.

Amy got the idea for the story after seeing an Instagram Q&A hosted by a current member of the university’s African Students Association. One of the questions — asking whether there’s a Black barber shop on campus, or if students cut each other’s hair — made her pause. It wasn’t an issue that Amy, who is white, had thought much about before. But, she’s previously written about the dynamic between Case Western Reserve students and their neighbors.

She knew the question was worth exploring further. She responded to the student group, who connected her to Premier Barber Lounge. After talking to McNair and stopping by to meet her and Burke in person, Amy returned about two weeks later to watch the cut in action.

The racial makeup of Cleveland is what ended up drawing Burke to Case Western Reserve in the first place.

“You can’t really find a Black barber in a predominantly white city,” he said.

++ Mya Nash, a senior at Chicago State University, told Lisa Philip, our reporter at WBEZ Chicago, that her chemistry professor, Valerie Goss, helped her find her place on campus: staring into an atomic force microscope. Both are Black women — and Goss’s support helped Nash make it through. She will graduate this month and pursue a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Chicago.

— Colleen Murphy

A Ph.D. after 26 years in prison

Illustration by Emily Forschen for Open Campus. Photos courtesy of Johnny Pippins and Fortepan Iowa.

Johnny Pippins, 53, walked out of Iowa’s Anamosa State Penitentiary this week after more than two decades behind bars. He will now begin a new chapter as a fully funded Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa. It’s the first step in his dream of becoming a professor.

Earlier this month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted Pippin’s sentence for a gang-related murder he committed decades ago. Charlotte West, our reporter covering prisons and higher ed, has been following Pippins’s story closely.

In prison, Pippins dedicated himself to education, which played a key role in his quest for clemency. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Adams State University and a master’s degree in statistical science from the University of Idaho.

Now, after years of postponing his entrance into a Ph.D. program, Pippins is finally going to sit in a classroom this fall. But before that, he plans to keep busy: enjoying food, catching up with friends and family, and walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

“A lot of guys who have served a whole bunch of time are kind of apprehensive and anxious, but you’re gonna be hard pressed to find someone that is as prepared as I am.” Pippins said.

— Lynn Liu

Elsewhere on Open Campus

While working at AHN’s Jefferson Hospital, Chelsey Durst began considering a career change. She’s now enrolled in CCAC’s medical laboratory technician program. (Photo: Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

From Pittsburgh: Emma Folts, our reporter at Public Source, released the first story in a series exploring the implications of declining enrollment at the Community College of Allegheny County. This is more than just the pandemic-induced declines many community colleges faced — CCAC has lost half of its students body since 2010.

Next, Emma wants to dig into CCAC’s struggle to get students through to graduation. “Enrolling students is one thing, retaining them is certainly another,” she said earlier this week on The Confluence, a radio show from WESA 90.5, Pittsburgh’s NPR affiliate.

From California: Roughly a third of California’s 115 community colleges missed a deadline to establish a “basic needs” center on their campuses, Adam Echelman reported for CalMatters this week. There isn’t a penalty for missing that mark, which was added in the 2021-22 state budget.

From El Paso: Failure is a part of life. In college, that can be hard to remember. But professors at the University of Texas at El Paso share stories of their own failures with their students, to help them see that everything still turned out OK.

From Mississippi: Ivy Taylor, the president of Rust College, departed the university last week, according to a statement that doesn’t say whether she stepped down or was fired. She is the fifth president of a Mississippi college or university to leave under mysterious circumstancessince last summer, Molly Minta, our reporter at Mississippi Today reports.

++ big congratulations to Mississippi Today and their reporter Anna Wolfewho won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. Her investigation “The Backchannel,” uncovered the depth of the state’s $77 million welfare scandal.

From Tampa Bay: Ben Sasse hasn’t been around much in the early months of his presidency at the University of Florida. He vowed to “listen, listen, listen, and listen some more” when he arrived in Gainesville — but has yet to meet with many groups on campus: student government, the faculty union, the graduate student union, or the university’s LGBTQ organization.

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