By Alexandra Greengrass.
Michael Sorrell is currently president of Paul Quinn College, a historically black, christian university in Dallas, Texas, and has been for the past eleven years. On January 23, Sorrell visited Tulane as the NewDay and MLK Week for Peace Convocation Speaker to share his beliefs on inequity within the American education system, and how Paul Quinn is implementing innovative solutions to combat this.
Michael Sorrell never expected to be an educator – he left a lavish, well-paying job to join Paul Quinn College as president, where he noticed persisting inequities within the American higher education system that made gaining a degree, along with resume-building, real–world experience, nearly impossible for the majority of students. Addressing the diverse needs of his students, Sorrell instituted innovative programming, saying, “Justice, to us, is designing a system that speaks to the reality of students coming to school now.”
Sorrell established a work study program, cut tuition and fees, and built the curriculum around what he calls the “Quinnite Arts”– a real–world oriented liberal arts education. Students go to school year-round for their first year, so they can later complete a paid internship, and finish their first semester at Thanksgiving – another small yet significant innovation in which Sorrell realized how hard it was for students to afford going home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
Twelve years ago, Paul Quinn was in a food desert, closer to a garbage dump than a grocery store; so, Sorrell terminated the football program and worked with investors to turn the field into a community garden. Sorrell said, “We are always asking ourselves, what can we do better for those that may never come through our doors?”
Since 2010, Paul Quinn’s enrollment has increased by 250%, a testament to his dedication to making meaningful change. Drawing on Sorrell’s accomplishments as inspiration, we must ask ourselves who we are designing for, what we are motivated by, and in the words of Dr. Chris Dowdy, Paul Quinn’s VP of Academic Affairs, we must remember that “to serve those who have never been served you must do what has never been done.”