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Breaking Barriers: The Journey of Black Men in Reclaiming Masculinity and Equity in Higher Education

The intersectionality of race and gender cannot be ignored when assessing how college onboarding forces assimilation, stripping Black men of their identity to ensure they are more palpable to society at large. Manhood and leadership can take many forms, and each should be celebrated and embraced for the unique opportunities and insights they provide. Everything from culture to appearance informs mode of presentation, acceptance, and likelihood of impact. While colleges know and attempt to help cultivate these attributes, the idea of a Black male leader needs to be examined as it pertains to the many individuals entering colleges and universities.

Dr. Hamilton RaymondDr. Hamilton RaymondThere is a reason the first image that pops into most people’s heads when a Black man is mentioned isn’t that of a high-level executive who leads a board room of highly influential people. Societal conditioning hurts people at every level, including college onboarding, especially given that majority of these students are struggling to embrace their formative years as actual men.

Considering who the role models are and finding accurate role models who align with positioning of a post-graduate professional is of the utmost importance when onboarding Black men at a collegiate or university level.

While manhood is not defined as a monolith, onboarding descriptions, presentations, and further educational sources need to document an increased variety of manhood and leadership examples to more accurately reflect that of the entering classes of students.

Educators must challenge the norm and present materials as society changes to reflect the inherent differences, accomplishments, and successes that can serve to empower everyone looking to succeed within these educational facilities. It is important that we acknowledge there is an internal locus of control that will be essential for young Black men to come into form and take accountability for their very own actions. They must be assured and affirmed that they see themselves in the process of growing to become their very best, or at least better than before, as individuals who contribute to society in positive ways. Because our current society has adopted a distorted image of both who the Black man is and is not, the shift in development comes to that of the external locus of control. Choosing to attend college versus doing anything else will support these young men against environmental factors that may negatively influence them.

Educators must question why this misalignment occurs, understanding this disposition is present and tentatively prevalent within young Black men, and initiate steps to embrace rather than erase the special contributions coming specifically from the Black male demographic. Internal and personal growth must be made a priority and mainstay in the college onboarding process, as opposed to assimilation and blending. As with many young Black men when they matriculate, past experiences from their underserved communities overtake their internal ability to see themselves as capable and able to rise beyond their past or most recent situation in their respective communities. It is on educators who are part of the onboarding process to not only acknowledge but also combat the intricate complexities this juxtaposition implies and creates. While no one can force someone to see something differently, our young Black men do need to be shown the possibilities they have yet been able to convincingly conceive.

Dr. Harrison P. JohnsonDr. Harrison P. JohnsonAdmittedly, the onus does not fall solely on educators when addressing the topic of how young Black men perceive their opportunities and potential success. One connection that will prove itself to be meaningful in the new becoming of these Black men is to have family support — external to the institutions at which they study. Family support proves to be vital in the sustainment of life for Black males. Supporting young Black men with a college education is a critical asset to ensure that they develop into the Black man of their choice.

The pride their families have in seeing them attend, exceed in studies, and subsequently graduate from institutions of higher learning holds a special incentive of its own that cannot be denied. Many from this particular demographic are doing so for their families and to advance their lineage into recognizable greatness and success.

Concepts that have been found to work in assisting the Black man in shaping who he wants to be, have been presented in a college onboarding program. According to Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, in his text titled Student Development Theory in Higher Education: A Social Psychological Approach, these concepts were derived as necessary support that would allow young Black men who were first-time freshmen to enter an entirely new environment with a greater sense of self and belonging. The initial form of comfort and identity was framed around supporting and enhancing self-image and self-esteem, not tearing it down to replace it with something else perceived as being better or less Black.

For nearly all the young men selected for this onboarding experience, this is their first time away from home. Leading with who they are, not only within their new college or university community but also in the African American community, is priority with establishing a new foundation. Leaning into self-image as a co-foundational concept for these young men presents the greatest possibilities for their success at a college or university level. Educators have a responsibility to meet these young men where they are and help propel them into heights of success previously considered unattainable.

Dr. Hamilton Raymond is executive director of admissions at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Harrison P. Johnson is the university registrar at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

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