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Dear BI Career Consultants

Dear BI Career Consultants: As participation in higher education becomes more global and multicultural, how can African American students/faculty maintain their identity, or do they need to?

Creating and maintaining a positive cultural identity is essential to the success of African American students and professionals in higher education. Too often African Americans allow our identity to be created and/or influenced by film and media. Many on-screen images of African Americans contain negative stereotypes and often depict us as hostile, angry and troubled.
In order to create and maintain a positive cultural identity, there must first be a deeper understanding of our own history in America. African Americans in higher education struggle with maintaining a positive cultural identity because we lack a comprehensive knowledge base of our ancestral past. As professionals in higher education, we must encourage our students to enroll in African American studies courses.  At Lander University, we provide a course entitled “A History of the Black Experience: From Africa to America.” Students completing this course leave with a strong since of pride in their own culture and the African diaspora. Armed with the knowledge of their past, our students become more motivated to excel in college and seek opportunities to better their community.
Motivated African American students need leadership development opportunities beginning their freshman year. At Lander, we provide freshmen with minority peer mentors through a program called R.O.O.T.S. (Reaching Our Objectives Through Solidarity). R.O.O.T.S. is a program designed to encourage and assist first-year African American students with a successful transition into the college environment by providing students with “Big Brother/Big Sister” role models. R.O.O.T.S. mentors help new students with choosing majors, classes, professors, and also provide tutoring in most academic areas. Mentors sponsor social activities for new students that usually end with an educational or motivation presenter. Freshmen who have participated in the R.O.O.T.S. program usually become more academically motivated and involved in campus life.
On White college campuses, African American students can sometimes get lost and become detached from their culture. Many universities only offer programs for their African American students during Black History Month. It is important that professionals in higher education provide year-round cultural awareness activities not just for African American students but also for the education of the entire university population.
A combination of historical education, leadership development, and community programming will begin to help African American students and professionals in higher education create and maintain a positive identity.

Roy N. Rasheed
Assistant Dean of Students
and Director, Multicultural Affairs
Lander University
Greenwood, S.C.

African American students and faculty must be constantly on guard as the new trend of global acceptance and multiculturalism takes shape on campuses across this nation. Most of the acceptance of a more global community is done by replacing programs that were originally created for African Americans. Today’s African American students and faculty can ill afford to allow ourselves and our culture to be relegated to the back of the campus bus. On these new globally multicultural campuses, identity and services are formed on the basis of your nationality not your ethnicity. African Americans have never been granted equal rights, protections and services on most of these campuses. Under this new practice of segregational nationalism African American students and faculty will find themselves merged into the great American melting pot and ultimately not represented at all.
It is the responsibility of African American students and faculty to remind our institutions that until America accepts African Americans as equal contributors to the economic (especially athletic programs), social, educational and cultural development of the institution there can be no concessions made by us creating a new multicultural consciousness. The continued maintenance of ourselves as African Americans can only be achieved if we as African American students and faculty do as our Jewish brothers and sisters have done — unapologetically demand that our institutions “never forget” who we are as African and American. African American students and faculty cannot allow ourselves to be used as the gatekeepers of multiculturalism on the campus at the expense of Black students, faculty, Black culture centers, or Black studies programs. We as African American students and faculty must work daily at establishing and maintaining a strong African American presence on our campuses. The purpose for our being there is to contribute equally to the fabric of the multicultural campus from an African American perspective, not to be swallowed by it.

Bryant K. Smith
Director of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Services
Millikin University
Decatur, Ill.

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