Afrocentric weapons in the recruitment and retention wars

African-centered theories and initiatives are often associated with
individuals whose perspectives have not been embraced by traditionally
White institutions (TWIs) — like Dr. Molefe K. Asante, who speaks of
“placing African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves
African culture and behavior;” and Dr. Leonard Jefferies, who divides
humanity into the warlike “Ice People” and the generous, communal “Sun
People.” As a result, many ascribers have been relegated to centers for
Black culture, offices of African American affairs, and departments of
African American studies.

However, Dr. Wilson Moses, in The Deep Roots of Afrocentrism, notes
that the Afrocentric movement is no longer reserved for the social
scientist: “Afrocentrism today is a charismatic, not an intellectual
movement…. Afrocentrism is among the masses of Black people and it’s
very deeply rooted in their consciousness.”

And, in fact, people of African descent have incorporated
Afrocentric trappings into their daily lives. Black expos, the rebirth
of braids, wearing Kente cloth and other African attire, vacations to
the Motherland, rites of passage ceremonies, and celebrating Kwanzaa
have become accepted parts of the Black experience. So it should be no
surprise that parents and students, as consumers, expect to see their
culture recognized and to hear their concerns addressed by college

To address those expectations, some institutions have responded by
openly acknowledging past injustices and marketing special programs and
events — like Black Parents’ Associations, special engineering or math
programs, and Black recruitment weekends, among other things — as part
of the college search process. And several institutions that have had
success enrolling Black students have learned that attracting a
multiracial population with a monocultural approach is incongruent.

These TWIs have benefitted from coupling the traditional strategies
that focus on White students with practices that are specific to Black
students. They have come to realize that not only are African American
parents interested in the institution’s academic reputation, but they
are also concerned with its reputation specific to African Americans.
So although the word does not roll from the lips of admission officers
and administrators at TWIs, some are effectively engaging in
recruitment and retention practices that are indeed Afrocentric.

In a recent study, I found that there are similarities in the
methods used by a number of these institutions. While specific
activities vary, both selective and open admission institutions
experienced success when:

* the senior level administration is committed to institutional change;

* Afrocentrism and Eurocentrism coexist in recruitment activities;

* there is a commitment from African American faculty and staff who view themselves as agents of change;

* non-Black allies are cultivated, especially when Black faculty
and administration numbers are small; students are considered “owners”
in the recruitment process the Black community is connected to the
institution; and there is cross-communication among “stewards of
diversity” within the institutional community. African American
students have attended TWIs in increasing numbers since the sixties and
seventies. However, colleges and universities nationwide report that
recruiting and retaining students of color can be problematic. This
endeavor has been further complicated by attacks on affirmative action,
a resistant national climate, and a lack of funding.

Despite the conservative right’s disingenuous call for a
“color-blind society,” American is not homogenous. American
institutions are not only products of its citizens’ cultural
differences, but also victims of their historical baggage. Given the
historical — and current– context of Black access to higher
education, an Afrocentric approach appears to be among the efficient
responses to student enrollment at TWIs. Even though parents may not
engage in the scholarly arguments regarding African-centered thought,
they do possess a particular perspective — one where children of
African descent are affirmed, their experiences are valued, and their
cultural affiliation is advanced.

What is needed, then, is a new approach. The model for the next
millennium must move beyond the strict attention to European American
students and from grouping all underrepresented populations into the
amorphous “minority” category. As TWIs compete to recruit and graduate
tomorrow’s global leaders, they will need to develop a way to answer
the ambivalence and deal with the cultural experiences of Black
children. An approach grounded in heritage, pride, and opportunity is a
salient means whereby African American students can “find their
reflection” on White campuses.

Dr. Zenobia Lawrence Hikes Assistant to the Vice President for Student Life, University of Delaware

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