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Making Room for the Study of Gifted African American Males

Making Room for the Study of Gifted African American Males

In a recent article, “Extraordinary Gifts Often Come in Plain Brown Wrappers,” I detailed a research investigation highlighting the experiences of two academically gifted African American males in two different collegiate settings, a historically Black college or university (HBCU) and a traditionally White institution (TWI).
 My goal was to find out more about the education of African American males in general and the education of gifted collegiate African American males in particular. Two main questions guided my investigations: Are there identifiable factors that lead to the success of these students within the college and university setting? And does attending an HBCU provide the gifted African American male with support structures lacking in the TWI?
Perhaps the most valuable insight I gained from my time spent in the field interviewing, observing and collecting documents from these two students was that their needs, whether in a racially homogenous setting like the HBCU or a racially heterogeneous setting such as the TWI, were essentially the same.
The factors identified in the study as contributing to these students’ academic successes were peer relationships, relationships with faculty, self-perception, institutional environment, family influence and support, and issues contributing to college selection. Each of these factors, to some varying degree, were found to impact these two young men’s experiences.
The second question revealed divergent reports from the respondents. The differences were primarily attributed to the mission and scope of these two very different types of higher learning academies. Whereas the HBCU student found his institution to provide numerous academic and nonacademic support structures, the TWI student’s experience, although successful from an academic standpoint, was noticeably one-sided when engagements beyond academics were discussed.
What does this one study tell us about gifted African American males and what valuable information does it provide to broader audiences interested in enhancing the postsecondary experiences of minority students? In order to avoid making sweeping generalizations regarding the experiences of all gifted African American males, readers should only take pieces of this study they deem applicable to their institutional context.
Yet this study does serve a very basic purpose — the recognition of the gifted African American male as a real and viable entity. A cursory search of academic and nonacademic literature reveals the paucity of information available regarding this population. 
This study also clearly identifies several factors influencing the success of this student population — factors which colleges and university officials as well as parents and students themselves should be cognizant of in order to assure that more gifted and talented brothers make it through the educational pipeline. The importance of family and peers, coupled with a supportive faculty and institutional climate, all combine in a higher education crucible to aid in the student’s achievement.
Academic affairs and student affairs divisions must develop programs and initiatives geared toward the interest and motivation of the academically gifted African American male. The “one-size-fits-all” approach can no longer serve as the modus operandi if we are to truly tap the educative nuances promoted by this student population. If we want to know what these students need, institutions must inquire, investigate and subsequently invest in their achievement.

— Dr. Fred A. Bonner II is an assistant professor in the Adult and Higher Education Program at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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