A crowd of young black students recently spent a Friday afternoon listening to lectures from role models in their community, discussing their opportunities for higher education, and planning their futures.
In an attempt to not only address but also strategize solutions to this racial disparity in higher education, VCU held a Black Male Students Symposium. The event was hosted by the College of Humanities and Sciences, VCU Libraries, the VCU Black Education Association and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. It was designed to equip black male students with the knowledge, skills, and networks of support they need to earn their degrees.
The all-day event focused on the concept of turning ideas into action, and featured several lectures by numerous prominent African American professors and a panel discussion with the members of VCU’s Black Education Association.
Nationally, only 40 percent of black men who start public college graduate within six years, compared to 49 percent of black women and 69 percent of white students, according to a data compiled by the National Collegiate Athletic Association cited in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. African Americans represent the largest racial minority population at VCU, but African American men have the second lowest graduation rate in the College of Humanities and Sciences, after Hispanic and Latino students.
In his lecture, Associate Chair of the Department of Political Sciences Ravi Perry, Ph.D., highlighted the barriers to higher education that exist for black male students and stressed the importance of acknowledging that disparity when talking about academic achievement within the black male community.
“If those who work with students have deficit thinking attitudes, then we are already really enabling the extenuation of these negative numbers that continue to expand the gap between black and white achievement in higher education,” said Perry. “Financial stress is actually a huge burden for black male students. What that means is, dropout rates are not about the performance of the student in most cases, they’re about the fact that they can’t afford the education. That’s really important to emphasize in terms of how we frame and think about the black male experience.”
The members of the Black Education Association discussed the role of mentorship and personal sacrifice in their career paths and answered questions from the crowd of assembled black male students.
“People helped me while I was climbing up and I do think it left me with a sense of responsibility that I need to reach out and help other individuals,” said Michael Newsome, Associate Vice President of Research Development in the Office of Research and Innovation.
“I’m a big believer in sowing and reaping. So sometimes you may have to sow that time in and you may not see immediate compensation, but it will come back to you.”
Throughout the symposium, speakers emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with positive and productive peers, finding mentors in the community to help guide your career development, and using the resources already available to black males in higher education.
“Sometimes all you need is that one opportunity, but you also need to be willing to make that step yourself. And if you don’t have the resources in your immediate pocket, you’ve got them here at VCU, you have them throughout the VCU community, you just need to find them,” Ravi said.
Written by Megan Schiffres