Black and Latino men pouring out

Education, Featured — By Blanca E. Vega on March 24, 2010 at 7:00 am

Stepping up and doing more to keep them in the academic pipeline

On Friday, March 19, 2010 I presented at the Urban Male Conference sponsored by the College Now program, held at Baruch College of the City University of New York. There I presented to young men from 9th through 11th grades about navigating the college campus.  Recognizing my difference in this group – I am a female, doctoral candidate – I chose to bring two seniors from the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Marymount Manhattan College, a program I have directed since 2006.

The purpose of this conference was to encourage more young men of color to attend college level courses while still being in high school.  The mission of the College Now program, like many outreach programs, is to push more students to apply, enroll, and graduate from college.  For this article, rather than talk about the problems facing young men of color, I would like highlight the work being done in this area with the hopes that more people will be encouraged in patching up, strengthening, and possibly restructuring the academic pipeline for young men of color.

Like many educators, I have noted the dearth in young men of color in higher education.  As Director of an opportunity program I am well aware of the difficulties we encounter when talking to young men about college – many of them have the desire, but do not have the grades or SAT scores to even apply. Some of the men, such as the ones I met or heard from at this conference, are becoming fathers or are expected to take care of their families even while they are in high school.

Thus it is not surprising to read articles on the news about the high dropout rates of young Black and Latino men. For example, “Group Explores Black Male Drop Out Rate” where we find that the over 50% of Black men drop out of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Or  this audio clip from NPR called “Fewer Latino Students Make it To Graduation Day” where we hear that Latino males are not only lagging behind Latina females in higher education – they are lagging behind everyone else. Another article shares that 23% of young Black men who drop out from high school are incarcerated.  Some coin these issues the “Boy Problem” (hear NPR clip).

Despite the differences in content, these articles all share one thing in common: terrifying information about the status of the educated man of color.  So knowing all of this, what are we doing about enhancing the education of young men of color – specifically that of black and Latino males? As educators we find ourselves at a loss when we realize that our male enrollments are low.  And it is easy to get the highly motivated students, the ones who are constantly given attention.  What happens to the young man who does not want to speak up about his problems at home with his pregnant girlfriend, a mother who died three years prior, and laundry list of cuts and absences from school?  Do problems with our young men have to get terrible before we act?

Some educators directly speak with young men about these issues. My colleagues at College Now in Manhattan met and discussed low enrollment rates by young men of color.  They decided to put together a conference to talk to young men directly. Over eighty young men showed up with their mentors on a scheduled half day at school.  They were provided with a book from writer, scholar and activist, Kevin Powell, who wrote the Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life. Students were able to attend a conference where they met older Black and Latino men who came from similar circumstances and provided them with some advice from the other side of the pipeline.  For some of these young men, it was probably the first time they spoke out loud about their problems. For others, it was time to share, to learn, and to be cajoled into taking a college level course.

Some researchers write about these problems.  For example, Victor Saenz and Luis Ponjuan professors at the University of Texas, Austin and University of Florida, respectively, wrote an article called “The Vanishing Latino Male”. In this article we read about the reasons Latino males do not enroll or drop out of college.  They find that a closer look into social structures provide a reason as to why so many Latino males are not in college. These are also the same gentlemen who with other colleagues and with the support of the College Board went around the country to speak with young men of color to understand the problems that they face in postsecondary education.

In my little world, I decided to convene my young men to a meeting to discuss why so many of them received early alerts of potential to fail in their classes.  The discussion shocked the men in my group.  They thought they were “getting into trouble”.  These young men who come into my office every day with much bravado were scared of being punished.  Rather than discuss these problems before they affected their school work, they ran away – until this meeting where they had to face each other.  The following is what I learned from this meeting:

  1. They want structure. They want to speak in groups openly without the feeling of being punished.
  2. They don’t see each other as academic team mates. One of them even said “When I see him, and I want to study, I just turn the other way”. Needless to say I was shocked.
  3. They have such little spaces to just be themselves, the few spaces they do have to interact with one another; they want to talk about things other than school.
  4. They don’t talk to each other about their problems.  Why should they? They don’t want to look like they have an excuse for not doing well.
  5. They are motivated but do not know the importance of internships, fellowships, activities in school.  Their connection is each other and if one is not involved with something, none of them are.

As a Latina educator, I am heartbroken every time I read a young man’s college application that was clearly not reviewed by a counselor or teacher.  Recommendations are not typed, essays are not examined for grammatical errors, and resumes are half done.  I make it my business to call these counselors and help them understand why an application is so important in this process.  It is a shame that I have to do this but intervention must happen at every step of the college application process if I am truly interested in bringing in more men of color into my program.

The truth of the matter is that there is evidence of what works. Recently, an article was written about the high school and college admissions rate attained by young black men from a high school in Chicago called Urban Prep Academy for Young Men. This academy was able produce results of 100% in both areas. In this work, we also have professors such as Victor Saenz and Luis Ponjuan who work with young people and still continue to write and research about better ways to educate our young men.  We have practitioners of education such as the Directors and Coordinators of the College Now program in Manhattan, New York who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to encourage young men of color to attend college.  Why aren’t we researching these efforts?  Why is our government not supporting these efforts more?  Are we purposefully neglecting these young men?  And if so why?

At the end of my meeting I urged my young men to recognize each other as brothers, part of a fraternity of a select group of young men who enroll and graduate from a private college in New York. I urged my young men to see each other as academic team mates, as if they were on the basketball courts, football and soccer fields.  Similarly, I urge my colleagues to pick up the phone to contact guidance counselors to pay extra careful attention to their students’ college applications.  I encourage guidance counselors to reach out to colleges and universities and find out what we expect in a potential student and then share that information with their young people. I also hope that more articles and research will be done on the work that many educators are engaged in, those that are dedicated to ensuring the academic success of young men of color so that we may learn how to do this in our own circles. Just a little bit more on all of our parts, such as the examples I have provided above, can help us patch up, strengthen, and even restructure this faulty academic pipeline.

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Author: Blanca E. Vega (2 Articles)

Blanca E. Vega

Blanca E. Vega is a Doctoral Candidate at Columbia University's Teacher's College.

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