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NASPA Addresses Collegiate Black Male Performance

BOSTON — In a qualitative study examining the lives of 20 collegiate Black males, Iowa State University graduate student researchers determined the six reasons why Black males struggle at predominately White institutions: isolation, the lack of positive images, the lack of preparation, financial factors, the lack of mentors and pride.

Terrance Frazier and fellow graduate students John Gardner, Gia Mason and Noreen Siddiqui presented their findings at the NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education conference this week. One participant of the Frazier’s 20-member focus group said, “Black men learn from other Black men. An [institution’s] greatest asset is other Black men.”

Another said, “It is not being broadcast that a lot of [Black men] are successful, so it kind of looks like we’re not successful.”

Efforts to address the growing number of Black male college dropouts in higher education have increased in popularity in recent years. In 2005, the nationwide graduation rate of Black students was 40 percent, compared to 61 percent for White students.

“Many students are first-generation students, they work part-time jobs, they’re coming from underfunded public schools, they’re leaving familiar surroundings and immersing themselves in a culture that is unfamiliar, where the majority of people do not look like them. Schools can sometimes be hostile environments,” Frazier said.

For university officials seeking solutions to combat the low number of Black men graduating from college and create more inclusive environments, researchers presented a hypothetical template to address the reasons given by study participants explaining why Black males were failing. The faux program was called Men of Nia, nia being Swahili for purpose.

To build a stronger connection between the Blacks on campus, the program first seeks to instill a sense of purpose in students. “We encourage the men to find purpose with in their academic fields to reinforce their connection to the school,” Gardner said.

The next step proposed by the group is to recruit Black male upperclassmen or alumni to serves as “akida” (leaders) or peer mentors for underclassmen. The akida serve as intermediaries between the lowerclassmen and the institution. Students are more likely to seek help from peers than administrators.

“A lot of male students at predominately White institutions don’t ask for help. They don’t want to appear as intellectually inferior. Some would rather flunk out than ask for tutors. The environment of some schools is not always conducive to asking for help,” said Frazier.

The akida should receive leadership training to instill mentoring and relationship-building skills. Both the akida and the underclassmen are encouraged to take an oath promising that the men will continue to uphold strong academic standards, build strong community relationships and strive for success.

“The oath is intended to instill a sense of commitment into the participating members,” Mason said.

Three other components to the program are:

•        Two off campus retreats to builder stronger bonds between students

•          Mandatory reflection journals to encourage self-defining

•        Off campus educational learning experiences such as conferences, forums and festivals to reinforce academic preparation

Joseph Hunter, a student affairs representative at Clarion University in Pennsylvania who has been working to devise a similar program, plans to use the researchers’ findings and proposed program as a framework. “We have to engage our men of color, and they must learn to seek help,” Hunter said. “This program saved me a lot of work.”

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