Friday, September 19, 2008

Why All Community Colleges Need a Male Center?

Why All Community Colleges Need a Male Center is like asking why we need to develop university retention programs for male students. The answer is obvious— because we are in an academic and community crisis. With alarmingly low numbers of entering college male students nationally, specifically males of African descent, it would only make sense for university administrators to have a more proactive approach towards the recruitment and retention of marginalized populations. Without an established on-site setting for them to turn to for resources and guidance, their challenges are not only ignored but we take the risk of encouraging them to find less productive ways to cope, including illegal activities for those whose vision of academia and of themselves is even more limited. We who have been fortunate enough to receive one or more academic nods seem somewhat detached from these young men and their everyday struggles, concluding that they are either unprepared scholastically or crime-driven, and therefore inappropriate. Yet we forget why community colleges were created, in the first place which was to assist local and low-income students in pursuing a college degree and, as a result, be in a position to later compete in the market world.

Life In and Out of the Bubble
Even after being fortunate enough to be given the financial opportunity to attend college, there are a myriad of challenges that the African American college male student faces on a daily basis. While the college campus provides him with the necessary academic resources he needs in order to fulfill his major requirements, conflicts outside of what I call the bubble—the protective shield of campus life—are a constant threat to his academic success. There is a kind of dual identity that he quickly learns to adopt, as he trains himself to succeed in the classroom while still adhering to street codes that often times directly oppose taking scholarly endeavors seriously. And so the dilemma for the urban Black male commuting college student, then, is how to keep the Hip Hop in his game while still making the grade? or How to negate the perception that college is a White thing or simply easier for Black females to maneuver? Without intervention, whether be it conscientious parents, mentoring or a course specifically designed for first year students, our sons find it easier to live outside of the bubble rather than in it; and this is where the male center can be an ideal place for them to turn to when they’re bombarded with so many messages that tell them they do not belong in the classroom. Messages that even we as policy makers and instructors are guilty of sending them, whether we realize this or not, which only add to their demise. Policies and course outlines that do not take into consideration their raw talents and original ways of applying themselves to the very tasks we throw at them. We push, instead, for conformity and formulas that work for everyone else but them.

Specific Challenges
While most college students struggle with developing good note-taking and test-taking skills, finding part-time jobs and dealing with relationship issues, Black male students in urban settings face the following specific challenges:

Lack of culturally-sensitive professors and conservative Black professors who have become indifferent towards them

Getting messages that tell them something is wrong with who they are and how they look, as opposed to celebrating them while offering valuable guidance and alternatives

Conflicted with fast illegal money they can make off campus and the rich education they can benefit from later, and the realities that cause them to take risks

Counselors who have not updated their approach to counseling inner-city males, in particular

Factory-like advisement to make up for high student numbers and understaffing

More receptive to life skills instruction than textbook format; feelings of intimidation

Earlier low expectations in public school and, as a result, coming into the college setting virtually unprepared and uninformed about general college know-how

Pressures of being a first time college student in their family and not having role models to help them navigate

Academic probation and outside forces that have a direct affect on their grade point average; not having sufficient documentation to support their appeal for reinstatement

Possible criminal record and how that also adds to feelings of intimidation and low self-esteem; financial aid restrictions on ex-convicts

Undiagnosed depression; perceptions of the angry, violent Black male; no or not enough outlets to address their frustrations

No or not enough programs/courses addressing prejudice against dark-skinned males, especially and socio/historical conflicts between genders

Police harassment and brutality; discrimination, male bashing; feeling unwelcomed and not listened to; their own pains not taken seriously; always feeling one step away from incarceration

Unemployment, and the pressure to provide or to keep up with trends

Child care concerns; single fathers not being given the same serious attention

Fear of math and sciences

Difficulties with communicating on paper; being told earlier on that not following euro-centered standards of writing equals not knowing how to write

Not sure of how to choose a major, to begin with; not knowing the difference between a job and a career

No or not enough men’s studies to help them discover and develop healthier, more holistic definitions of male-hood

Defining leadership and success differently than academicians; having an innate distrust or resistance to the academic process stemmed from earlier teachings either from their communities or peer pressure

Feeling conflicted between peer pressure and assimilating into mainstream society

More Challenges
Having a limited view and definition of what Black is or can be

Giving up easily; not knowing that small failures often lead to academic success

Male identity concerns, as in being ‘cool’ vs. being looked at as a ‘nerd’

Sexual identity concerns and feelings of isolation; no or not enough programs addressing prejudice on and off campus

No or not enough exposure to Ivy League schools and international student travel programs; preference tends to be for students with higher gpa’s which in turn supports prejudices against those with lower gpa’s

No or not enough exposure to living, reachable heroes; many of them assume heroes are dead figures in history books

No or not enough programs addressing what they need (coping) vs. what we think they should need (assimilation)

Our definition for good critical thinking skills (researching, reviewing, debating) vs. their definition (creating, juggling, marketing)

Emphasis on partying; being a sexual man, as opposed to learning how to become a social man

Emphasis on hyper-masculinity; adopting prison lingo and war zone gear as a form of survival and definition of power and manhood

Health factors (HIV/STD’s, high blood pressure, weight problems, steroid use, promiscuity, premature fatherhood)

No fathers at home; no knowledge of father’s whereabouts; no introspective relationship with their fathers or older males

Fear of asking for help

The Ideal Male Center
After identifying the many factors that affect urban commuter Black male college students, an ideal format for a campus male center that would address these challenges are presented below as an overview—

The Center would provide assistance to both administrators and faculty regarding male leadership skills, retention and probation matters, freshman orientation, and mediation

The Center would assist the Counseling Center with intervention and prevention matters

The Center would play a direct role in male-based counseling

The Center would work along with the College’s Women’s Center, specifically with issues dealing with domestic abuse and conflict resolution, providing workshops that address real life dramas that tend to affect students’ grades

The Center would provide information on job leads and support the College’s Career Services in terms of dress codes and general interviewing skills

The Center would offer male mentoring

The Center would support community service

The Center would promote campus and university men’s studies and seminars

The Center would work closely with faculty members who have a strong interest and appreciation for under-represented, marginalized male students

The Center would sponsor poetry open mic nights to provide outlet for frustrated and disenfranchised males

The Center would provide information on all-male colleges, and vocational programs for students who have opted not to pursue a college degree

The Center would work closely with the College’s nurse for students who are to shy to discuss their sexually transmitted diseases

The Center would be the College’s hub for male anger management and/or referrals to off-campus programs

The Center would address relationship struggles and provide how to workshops by male facilitators who have proven to be effective not by administration, but by the students themselves

The Center would be a place of non-judgment in its effort and obligation to reach all male students, including homosexual, bisexual or what we are now calling in more colloquial terms ‘DL’, as in down low (males who have sex with other males, yet still identify themselves as heterosexual)

The Center would identify potential violent students suffering from depression or mental disorder to Counseling staff

The Center would serve as mediator in matters involving classroom or campus-wide violence

The Center would assist campus security and the counseling staff in identifying problematic but not necessarily violent male students, not as a way of encouraging negative profiling or even dismissal, but to link them with staff or faculty members who would be willing to mentor them

The Center would be linked with male centers from other university campus’, including Medgar Evers College’s Male Empowerment Program and Lehman College’s Male Center for Leadership

The Center would play a major, if not a leading role in our effort to fulfill a campus Black Male Initiative program

(June 2007)

No comments: