My Brother’s Keeper: Some Gaps That May Keep the Nation From Making Progress Among Males of Color
Filed in Features on July 23, 2014
by D. Jason DeSousa
Given the disparate human conditions between boys and men of color and other populations, President Barack Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) to better create pathways for the success of males of color. Recently, the MBK Task Force provided the President and public a 90-day status report. The work is commendable and admittedly “only scratches the surface.”
Based on 20 years as a higher education practitioner, including positions as a provost; chief student affairs, enrollment management, and retention officer; and founder and director of two successful collegiate male initiatives at Morgan State University and Fayetteville State University, I offer some specific suggestions to strengthen the MBK’s final report. These suggestions are oftentimes overlooked by those who do not interact with boys and men of color daily.
Given both the weight and level from which this task force was formed – the White House and a cadre of philanthropic and private sector supporters – failure to close certain gaps in higher education and other domains could further create carte blanche justification for the ongoing marginalization of boys and men of color. In other words, if the MBK Task Force, with its luminaries and exorbitant resources fail, who could possibly be the best next hope to improve the plight of boys and men of color?
Pertinent Loose Ends
Isn’t it difficult to fathom that in 2014 – 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education – there are incidents when high school guidance counselors and others steer men of color to technical schools? Some high school administrators (and probably teachers, too) continue to set low academic expectations for boys and men of color. Yet, the MBK Task Force recommends “improving college advising services,” primarily by making more information available on postsecondary institutional degree completion rates and college debt. Changing this mindset of low expectations is integral to improving the college process and will likely result in more desirable educational outcomes for young men of color.
In 20 years, I never met a first-year student who had not completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) upon arriving on campus. I have met, however, scores of students and parents befuddled about how to close the gap between financial aid and the cost of attending college. Thus, it is not so much a matter of “encouraging FAFSA completion,” as the report recommends, as it is helping parents and students access resources to close the financial gap.
Nowhere in the recommendations did I read that the White House, MBK Task Force, or others should develop pathways for a critical mass of collegiate men of color to enter the K-12 teaching profession. My first African American male teacher was in 1982 as a first-year college student – not one from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Frequently, I ask the collegiate men of color with whom I work how many and when did you have your first male of color as a teacher? The majority did not benefit from the mentorship, high expectations, and role modeling from men of color teachers until reaching college. Isn’t it important for students of color, especially boys, to be exposed to men of color as teachers who can harness the importance of persistence, resiliency, responsibility, and leadership in ways other teachers cannot? This issue cannot be ignored in the final report if closing certain educational gaps is expected.
Promoting and investing in male initiatives is the last loose end. Male initiatives, such as Clemson’s “Call Me Mister,” Fayetteville State University’s “Boosting Bronco Brothers,” Morgan State University’s “MILE,” and North Carolina Central University’s “Centennial Scholars,” are just some of the programs on campuses nationwide. They are recognized as enhancing the quality of the undergraduate experience by building cadres of men of color with a collective sense of educational purpose with commensurate amounts of academic and personal support.
While the MBK Task Force cannot be all things to all boys and men of color, careful consideration should be given to avoiding a cookie-cutter approach to closing necessary gaps outlined in the report. Several factors need to be considered: geography, economics, learning styles, learning differences, and an array of family backgrounds. What works in urban locales may require different approaches in rural areas. Finally, colleges and universities have an important obligation to help close the achievement gap among collegiate men of color. Creating opportunities for collegiate men of color to engage in intensive summer bridge programs, particularly with a focus on math and writing; establishing peer-to-peer mentoring earlier; encouraging involvement in high impact practices; and rethinking traditional out-of-class experiences are approaches to re-focus colleges and universities on the goal of creating success for men of color.
D. Jason DeSousa is assistant vice chancellor for student retention at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.