University administrator pays it forward

Barbara Gutierrez, 06-13-2023

During the University of Miami graduate commencement ceremonies, Christopher Clarke, director of Multicultural Student Affairs, announced the establishment of the Clarke Family Student Support Endowment Fund.
Christopher Clarke, director of Multicultural Student Affairs
Christopher Clarke is the director of Multicultural Student Affairs at the University. 


For Christopher Clarke, the moment of truth came during a parent/counselor meeting when he was a junior in high school.

Clarke, the director of Multicultural Student Affairs at the University of Miami, had not been a stellar student. Described as a gifted student, Clarke somehow slipped through the cracks and frequently altered his grades to deceive his parents. This time he had been found out.

“I remember the counselor telling my mother that I only had freshman credits and that she felt I should drop out and pursue something else,” he said.

His mother, with tears in her eyes, asked the counselor if there was another option. She answered that it would be very difficult, but he could make up the credits by taking adult education courses.

Seeing his mother’s disappointment galvanized young Clarke.

“For a year I went to school from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and made up the courses and was able to graduate,” he said. “I cried that day.”

In May, Clarke graduated once again. This time with a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) from the School of Education and Human Development’s Higher Education Leadership Program. He served as the student speaker during the afternoon graduate commencement ceremony.

Christopher Clarke with family members at his commencement ceremony.
Christopher Clarke photographed with family members after his commencement ceremony on May 11.

For the first time, he chose to speak about his struggles during his high school years as a way to encourage other students who may be facing the same challenges.

“When people look at my resume, they assume I was a straight A student and I was never that,” he said. “But by telling people my story, it gives them perspective. They see my transformation, and it reminds students that they can do it.”

After high school, Clarke went on to graduate from Concordia University in Wisconsin. His journey through the education system gave him the passion to pursue higher education and help students like himself.      

Prior to joining the University of Miami, Clarke served as the inaugural director of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Chicago Law School and has worked at the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Chicago in similar capacities. 

In his current role, Clarke supports students who identify as multicultural by providing mentorship, guidance, and overall support to succeed at the University. Nearly 50 percent of the student body at the University identifies as multicultural, he noted.

His office coordinates programs and events, advises nearly 30 multicultural student organizations and provides advising support and guidance to the multicultural student population. “We continue to work with the University at large so that all students feel like they belong,” he said.

Juan Flechas, a senior studying biomedical engineering, is one of the students who has taken advantage of the Multicultural Student Affairs office. He grew up in Colombia, and when he moved to the United States had to learn English, as well as become acculturated to the new country and the campus.

“I felt the office was my home away from home,” Flechas said. “They supported me a lot. Mr. Clarke is like a dad at the University. If I had any concern, he would always make the time to talk to me.”

Darcell Streeter, senior director of special constituencies and campus engagement for the Office of Engagement, Development, and Alumni Relations, has watched how Clarke interacts with students.

“He has a passion for helping and developing the next generation of leaders,” she said. “He understands student affairs practices and theories. As a student affairs practitioner, Dr. Clarke leads Multicultural Student Affairs with service, empathy, and trust.”

Carol-Anne Phekoo, clinical associate professor at the School of Education and Human Development, worked closely with Clarke during his doctoral program.

“Chris was an excellent student,” she said. “He raised the bar for his classmates through his incisive contributions drawn from content knowledge and personal stories. It was no wonder that he emerged as a leader in his cohort.”  

Virginia and Leroy Clarke
Virginia and Leroy Clarke. Photo courtesy Christopher Clarke

Clarke realizes that his success would not have been possible without the support of his family. To honor his entire family, he announced during his commencement address the establishment of the Clarke Family Student Support Fund.

The $50,000 fund will provide need-based financial stipends to undergraduate and graduate students for various needs such as books, copays, travel, supplies, and clothing for job interviews. 

The endowment is in memory of his late paternal grandparents, Leroy and Virginia Clarke, who emigrated from the Bahamas in the 1940s and worked as indentured servants in private homes in Coral Gables.

“They worked from sunrise to sunset and lost their quality of life for us,” Clarke said. “I wanted to honor what they sacrificed for me to be where I am today. Their names will now be linked to this University forever.”