New initiatives director aims to spark engagement
Carlous Yates, NKU’s new director of African American Student Initiatives (AASI) office, is fiercely passionate about helping students—perhaps because he’s still a student himself.
During the week, Yates leads the AASI office at NKU. But on his weekends, he has class at Western Kentucky University, as a second-year doctoral student in organizational leadership and post-secondary education.
“I have class this weekend actually,” Yates said, as he laughed. “That takes up a lot of my time outside of work. I took all day yesterday reading because I’m in stats this semester.”
Originally, Yates worked at WKU for five years as the director of student support programs. However, due to the statewide budget cuts at the collegiate level, his position was eliminated. While searching for a replacement position, he recalled the keynote he attended here at NKU as part of an event hosted by the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education.
“Some of the individuals who were at the conference speaking, they were not of African-American descent, but they were talking about the importance of retaining students of color being everyone’s job, not just the Black offices,’” Yates said. “When you have colleagues who also understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, that’s a place that you want to work at.”
Currently, Yates is in charge of recruitment, retention and helping in graduation for students of color. He also oversees the NKU R.O.C.K.S. program, which helps young students of color ease the transition from high school to college with a year-long program. All non-National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations involving students of color also report to Yates, such as Nu Upsilon Black Women’s Honorary and the campus chapter of the NAACP.
Keisha Frazier, a current graduate student at Chase College of Law and the graduate assistant for AASI, has been working in the office in various positions for seven years. She commended Yates for his work so far and discussed how he came to NKU a week earlier than his actual start date in the summer, just to get to know the students.
“When he came that first week, it was so amazing…It was very cool for him to come in that early and just spend the whole week with us,” Frazier said. “It’s like he’s always been here. It’s amazing how well he fit in with the students.”
Aliya Cannon, freshman, said Yates has been vital to her first year at NKU.
“Mr. Yates, that’s my dawg. He’s done a great job, especially for his first semester. He’s really someone I can come and talk to about not just academics, but my life, or what I need help with,” Cannon said. “[Yates] is somebody I could really have a relationship with and I really am grateful for that. He’s had a big impact on me and my success right now at Northern Kentucky [University].”
Yates, who is often seen wearing a tie or bowtie, said people are surprised at his hobbies. Growing up on a tobacco farm in Savoyard, Kentucky, Yates took an interest in hiking, fishing and other nature-related activities.
“To look at me, you’d probably think, ‘no, he’s not,’ but I am as country as they come. I’m waiting for the summer because I love to be outdoors,” Yates said. “I’m a good ol’ outdoorsman, and I also like to garden and have my own plants, like tomatoes and squash.”
In addition to the month-long programming for Black History Month this February, Yates has several plans for future events out of AASI—such as expanding the R.O.C.K.S. program. One upcoming event that is new to the office is an alternative spring break, where students take a trip through the Deep South to visit historical landmarks.
Jontay Brown, sophomore marketing major and SGA senator, said Yates has been helping him grow both as a student and as a professional.
“He came in here and everything was kind of just thrown at him and I feel like he’s doing a really great job with what he has… I know, especially in this office, he’s letting me take on things that I normally wouldn’t have the chance to take on,” Brown said. “He’s definitely been a mentor to me and he’s helped me reach my potential.”
According to Yates, with several senior administration officials being people of color, including President Ashish Vaidya, it shows students of color that “there are individuals in places who can relate to them and understand their needs.”
He said he feels it’s important to have diversity everywhere on campus and for NKU to host offices such as AASI, since NKU is a predominantly White institution.
“For individuals who are URMs, underrepresented minorities, it’s always nice to have a space that you can go to and feel there’s someone who can understand your background and where you’re coming from, and be able to be you in that moment without being judged,” Yates said.
Yates reflected on his goals for the AASI office in the future.
“My ultimate goal is to reach all African-American students on campus. I want this office to be a hub for everyone who comes to this campus who is Black,” Yates said. “Being able to find individuals who look like you and can share their story with you is important, because it gives you hope that you can do it as well and you can be successful too.”