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Institutional Level Strategies for Retaining Men of Color


A couple of weeks ago, I served on a panel at the American Public and Land Grant Universities’ Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence Conference. The panel pertained to the ways in which colleges and universities can recruit and retain men of color in the student ranks. I was honored to be on a panel with Dr. Ronald Williams (of the College Board), Dr. Roy Jones (of the ‘Call Me Mister’ program), Dr. Lee Bitsoi (of Harvard University) and Dr. Robert Teranishi (of New York University).

Research on the recruitment and retention of men of color has grown over the past decade. Scholars, such as Dr. Luis Ponjuan, Dr. Robert Teranishi, Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, Dr. Shaun Harper and Dr. Victor Saenz have done work that pushes us to think differently about the success of minority men and our role in that success. Drawing upon this research, there are quite a few steps we can take to enhance the experiences of men of color in higher education.

First, as educators, we need to identify men of color and encourage them to attend college. It is not a given that these young men are being directed toward college or know the best routes through which to pursue a college education. We must do our part to create pathways to college and stop asking “Where are all the men of color?”

Second, we need to make sure that funding is in place before we recruit men of color. Having proper and ample funding allows these young men, who are disproportionately from low-income families, to concentrate on their academics and succeed in college. It is unconscionable to recruit students only to see them drop out because of a lack of funds.

Third, we must ensure that faculty and staff are willing and know how to mentor young men of color — those of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. It’s especially important that those of us who make it in academe don’t forget those who are trying to make it. I talk to so many young men of color who tell me they contact those of us in academe, only to be ignored. This is wrong and I don’t accept any excuse for it.

Fourth, we must build community among men of color in academe — circles of support to sustain their success in higher education. And, these communities should coincide and intermingle with majority communities so that young men of color are exposed to the resources and cultural capital that are essential for success.

Fifth, we need to provide resources for faculty and staff who are clueless in terms of working with or teaching students of color — in particular, men of color. All of us who work within academe need to have the proper tools to empower young men of color rather than impede their success.

And sixth, we need to use our voices to keep the successes and challenges of young men of color at the forefront of higher education conversations. We need to share our expertise, write about these issues in scholarly and practitioner-oriented outlets and challenge those who stand in the way of the success of men of color.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of “Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of “Understanding Minority Serving Institutions” (SUNY Press, 2008).

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