By Jarvis McCowin
Just a few days prior to the beginning of the fall 2016 semester, The President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion hosted its first Men of Excellence conference, designed to highlight the lived experiences of men of color on SUNY Broome’s campus. This conference also served as the kickoff to a year-long program to support minority male collegians of SUNY Broome to and through degree completion.
Since the conference, student participants of the year-long program are fostering meaningful relationships among one another via impromptu gatherings in the residence hall and cafeteria, among other places. Such opportunities assist these young men with their transition to the fall semester as they now have familiar faces that they feel connected to as a result of participating in the program, and are forming meaningful and supportive relationships.
Men of Excellence participants also have structured meetings (e.g., biweekly meetings, weekly tutoring sessions and mentor meetings, which are still being developed). The biweekly meetings are intentional spaces designed to provide these young men with opportunities to let their guard down, share their feelings and be brave. They can take off the masks they may wear in other places on campus. For a couple of hours, they are free to be their beautiful and authentic selves in a space that they know is provided for them.
Theory meets Practice
Recently, on Friday, September 23, some of the young men met during their scheduled biweekly meeting to check-in with one another for a time management workshop and to discuss the recent killings of two Black men at the hands of police (e.g., Tulsa and Charlotte). When asked if the recent killings had an impact on them, one student responded, “I watched the video and I was pissed off. He came from a community college just like one of us. That could have been one of us.”
The recent Men of Excellence biweekly meeting was theory in action. Tenets of Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory played out as the young men challenged racist stereotypes, interrogated systems of power, privilege and oppression, and utilized hip-hop as a means to put words to their own experiences as they shared stories of not feeling welcomed as a result of being mistreated in the local community and on campus. Some shared what it was like to be the only person of color in their class while others reflected on what it means to have to be taught a few extra steps when it comes to interacting with law enforcement.
Moving toward Excellence
We know from the literature on minority male enrichment that efforts serving to foster minority male college student success include — but are not limited to — entering college through summer bridge programs and other precollege initiatives, being engaged in enriching educational experiences such as study abroad and undergraduate research opportunities, and being prepared to respond to microaggressions. Curriculum redesign is also a must as long as the redesigned curriculum seeks to liberate the minds of those oppressed while interrogating systemic injustice. Offering such opportunities prepares postsecondary educational professionals to be intentional in their practice when working with students from diverse populations with different needs.
Collaborative efforts involving students, administrators, faculty and student affairs/higher education professionals present implications for good practices when planning initiatives for minority men and other marginalized student groups. Men of Excellence seeks to help foster the success of, create inclusive environments for and build community among minority men. For this to come into full fruition, the initiative must be embedded in the fabric of the institution and have adequate resources for the program’s success.
Men of Excellence participants are rewriting the stories of deficit and the mislabels placed upon on them so that SUNY Broome may be better prepared to work with current and prospective men of color. As these young men do this, we must keep in mind this is not their role. They are not responsible for educating members of the campus community about what it takes for them to excel. It is up to us as a community of educators to wholeheartedly challenge our own biases.
The key to minority male success is that there is no single key. Unlocking the doors of opportunity for men of color collegians requires that institutions get to know students for who they are and all they are becoming. Actively listening to their voices has potential for creating institutional change and strategic planning. Doing so should produce more data-driven initiatives offering institutions to assess, evaluate and build upon what is going well with diversity-related initiatives. This group, and other marginalized groups’ success, should not be serendipitous. As a community of educators at a community college, our work must be intentionally focused on providing opportunities for marginalized groups to experience liberation.
May we continue lifting up these young men. As we do so, may we too strive for excellence, not only for minority males, but for all students on SUNY Broome’s campus living and learning on the margins.
To learn more about the Men of Excellence program, feel free to view its website: http://www3.sunybroome.edu/menofexcellence/.
To learn more about Minority Males at Community colleges, visit The Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3).
To learn more about Black and Latino Males and their experiences in NYC high schools, check out the Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study.
To learn more about Black Male Achievement in Higher Education, check out Black Male Student Success in Higher Education: A Report from the National Black Male College Achievement Study.
Jarvis McCowin is a Residence Director in the Student Village.