Diverse Conversations: Black Men and College Initiatives ― Fair or Unfair?

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by Matthew Lynch

There’s no denying that the numbers are dismal when it comes to Black young men who attend and graduate from colleges in the U.S. Statistically speaking, Black men have the lowest test scores, the worst grades and the highest dropout rates—in K-12 education and in college, too. The school to prison pipeline is a real phenomenon, with state prisons systems determining their future populations with stunning accuracy based on fourth-grade reading assessment scores. The recognition of this educational crisis has led to some strong initiatives targeting young Black men with the intention of guiding them through the college years and to successful, productive lives that follow.

Any college initiatives targeted at a particular group of people are bound to see some pushback from those who are excluded. Despite the obvious need for college incentive programs for this nation’s young Black men, there are plenty who complain about the special treatment these young men receive. Even highly-regarded institutions like Stanford University have alumni who have spoken out against affirmative action practices, pointing out that, instead of eliminating racial discrimination, these initiatives have actually led to reverse-discrimination on college campuses.

A Gallup Poll found that 67 percent of Americans are against any type of special treatment when it comes to admittance to college based on ethnicity or race, favoring instead a system that admits students based solely on merit. The belief that Black, and other minority, college students who are given special considerations for admittance and financial aid are somehow stealing opportunities from other deserving students certainly is widespread and gaining traction.

Black Women Cry Foul

Perhaps the most surprising of those who are vocally against the increasing amount of financial, mentoring and other college transitional services for Black men are Black women. On the surface, this would appear to be a detrimental activity. Isn’t the fight for equality and opportunities for Black men really a fight for all Black people? If you ask the Black women who are angered by the initiatives available for their counterparts, that answer is, “No.” Where is the love for Black women with college aspirations—many of whom fall into disadvantaged categories themselves?

Programs like San Jacinto College’s Men of Honor target Black male college students with life programs that not only aid in college graduation, but in the development of life skills and networking opportunities. The TRUMPET program implemented at Northeastern Technical College has increased the retention rate for Black students from around half to nearly 90 percent. Programs like these that focus on guiding Black male college students through the process appear to be working, but is it at the detriment of female Black college students?

Why do Black men seem to be hogging all the college initiative programs?

Less Need for Intervention

The truth may lie in the success of Black women in college settings without an overwhelming amount of extra help. Black women are enrolling in college at a higher rate than any other group, and Black men graduate from college at a rate that is two-thirds lower than their female peers. Black women appear to be a victim of their own successes, it seems, when it comes to being targeted for help to get through college. Of course there are college incentive programs for Black women—from on-campus initiatives to United Negro College Fund options—but the overall spotlight seems to favor Black men where college encouragement is concerned. And many women resent it.

So what is it about the young women of the Black community that seems to inherently better prepare them for the college setting—without as much of an external push to succeed as the Black men? What is so different between a sister and brother raised in the same household that leads the female to prioritize college, while the male needs someone else to prioritize it for him?

It can all be traced back to the contemporary setup of Black families. You can call it stereotyping or overgeneralizing, but 68 percent of Black women who gave birth in 2012 were unmarried and 48.5 percent of Black children grow up in single custodial homes, with the overwhelming majority of those parents being mothers. The divorce rate for Black families is higher than for White or Hispanic families. More Black children grow up without the influence of their fathers than any other demographic.

As a result, Black women tend to grow up with strong female role models who emulate independence and a self-sufficient lifestyle. These single moms go out and get the job done every day, and, as their daughters get older, they realize that there is a better life outside these constraints—and that college is the path that will get them there. The young men, though seeing the same role models from their mothers, do not have a male version to look up to in many cases.

Which is why college motivation within and without the Black community is so vital for these young men. At this point in the nation’s history, they are in the greatest need for the lifestyle change that higher education can provide, and not just for individual growth but for the benefit of the entire nation. Black women, presumably tired of carrying the load for their community, may not be able to see beyond what they perceive as unfair when it comes to their personal circumstances to the long-term goal of a stronger Black community. So while the negative feelings of Black women college students regarding the advantages afforded their male peers are founded, a look at the long-term benefits of these male-centric initiatives on college campuses may change their perspective.

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