Brice Yates, who is the new director of the Charles E. Brown African-American Cultural Center, looks forward to being the mentor who makes a difference in Sycamores’ lives — and leading important discussions about diversity, inclusion and social justice.
Think about how you arrived to where you are today. You might recall your own hard work — the long hours, the roadblocks, the joys and those moments of sweet success. And you might recall something equally essential — the help you had along the way from mentors, colleagues, friends, family and others.
For Brice Yates, the new director of the Charles E. Brown African-American Cultural Center, the help he received as a once struggling college student hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, it’s what inspires him to help today’s students achieve success. Yates brings that passion for student development plus cultural education — along with six years of extensive higher education experience — to an excited cultural center and university.
But truth be told, as a struggling biology major with dreams of becoming a doctor, Yates had never imagined he’d wind up in higher ed. That was until he met mentors who offered some important advice and a few friendly nudges and ultimately helped set him on the path to becoming Indiana State’s latest student helper.
“I always think about my undergraduate career,” Yates said about the beginnings of his professional path. Although he did well in high school, Yates got off to a rocky start in college — something many students can relate to.
Yates started at one school, but took some time off. He later transferred to Morehead State University, where he hit a wall that he just couldn’t climb over. The course was chemistry, a requirement for his major and medical school.
“I was like, ‘Okay, okay. I can keep pushing, keep taking it.’ But I kept taking these classes and not passing them. Honestly, I was struggling with chemistry,” Yates said. But things began to turn around when Yates met mentors who helped him make a change.
“(My mentor) got me through those tough years in college,” Yates said. “Having a conversation with him helped put things into perspective. He said, ‘Just because you’re not doing well in this class doesn’t mean you’re failing or that you’re not being successful. Do something that you have a passion about but you also do well.’ That opened my eyes up to the Spanish major.”
After he turned his Spanish minor into a major, Yates became a successful and noted student leader at Morehead State.
But that wasn’t the last time Yates changed his direction for the better thanks to the help of others. In his senior year, Yates was set on pursuing a master’s degree in communication at Georgia State University. But his mentor repeatedly urged him (“I was being stubborn,” Yates said) to consider graduate school and a marketing specialist position at Morehead State. Yates followed that advice — and he’s been in higher ed ever since.
It’s those moments in Yates’ past that today fuel his passion to help students thrive in college. As part of his role as the director of the African-American Cultural Center, Yates looks to become that trusted resource for Indiana State students as his mentors were for him.
“I want students to know that I’m truly here to help them once they come to school, to keep them here and to help them move toward graduation,” Yates said. “When a student’s having a tough day, and they’re feeling like they’re ready to give up, they can come to my office and I can have that conversation to motivate them and to let them they know that they’re not doing this by themselves. That’s what really draws me. It’s that relationship building.”
At the helm of the cultural center, Yates will have plenty of opportunities to positively affect students’ lives. The center offers multiple mentoring, social and educational programs that serve both to educate people about diversity and enhance students’ experience and achievement at Indiana State.
It’s a lot to manage. But for Yates, it’s all right up his alley.
“Brice brings a wealth of experience with mentoring programs, multicultural educational programs and collaboration from his experience at Morehead State University and University of Central Florida,” said Andy Morgan, dean of students for the division of student affairs. “And he has excellent relationship skills that will help him in enhancing the cultural center’s programs and attracting more students to the center.”
Yates’s on-point resume includes serving as the coordinator of the Multicultural Student Center at Central Florida and the coordinator of the DREAMS Mentoring Program at Morehead State, among many other professional experiences.
“What drew me to Indiana State was the (cultural center’s) mentoring programs and that Indiana State is really building a big foundation for diversity and inclusion,” Yates said. “I plan on using (my skills and experience) to continue to build on the foundation that’s been established here.”
Among his initial plans for the center, Yates intends to “continue to build partnerships across the university … and make sure that the African-American Cultural Center is very visual and vocal,” he said. “Plus, making sure that we’re programming not just to our African-American students but for the entire ISU community.”
Upcoming events may include discussion programs about local, national and global issues — such as social justice, racism, disparities, mental health, LGBT equality and others — that have been the subject of concern at many university campuses and cities across the nation. By encouraging discussion on these issues, organizations like the African-American Cultural Center can play a role in making progress.
“Cultural centers are very unique,” Yates said. “They allow for people to look at things with different lenses, different perspectives. Cultural centers take the lead on creating an arena for people to come in and share their thoughts and opinions in a respectful manner. And cultural centers also take the lead on the educational component of teaching people about what diversity means, understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion, and understanding the difference between inclusion and social justice.
“I want to be the catalyst that starts those conversations … There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s everything that I’m passionate about.”