Diversity Themes Feature Prominently at 30th Annual NISOD Conference - Higher Education

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Diversity Themes Feature Prominently at 30th Annual NISOD Conference

by David Pluviose

AUSTIN, Texas

“We’re an open-door institution, but not enough African-American men are finding that door,” said Dr. Stephanie Bulger, explaining to NISOD Conference attendees about an ambitious plan the Wayne County Community College District has launched to enroll 1,000 Black men within the next five years.

Bulger, vice chancellor for curriculum and learning technologies at WCCCD, was among the 2,200 attendees to descend on Austin, Texas, this week for the 30th Annual International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence. Hosted by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin through its National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD) outreach arm, conference sessions focused on a host of issues designed to enhance community college teaching and learning.

Among the numerous conference sessions touching on diversity issues was a panel discussion focused on, “Effective Strategies for Attracting, Retaining and Graduating African American Males in Community Colleges.”

Panelist Bulger gave a presentation on Project M.E.N. (Male Education Network), which is focused on boosting the number of Black males on college campuses. Bulger says though WCCCD’s service area includes Detroit, which is more than 80 percent Black, less than 30 percent of the students on WCCCD campuses are Black males, as females of all races comprise the bulk of students.

Launched in the fall of 2007, Bulger says Project M.E.N. is a partnership between churches, Wayne County and the WCCCD. The county and the religious community provide financial support for the initiative, and the WCCCD provides access to financial aid and student support services for students enrolled in the program. Additionally, Bulger says that the religious community provides crucial mentoring for students in the program, which is led by men.

“This project was started because we noticed that there are some African-American males that were really on the margins of our city — homeless, ex-offenders, drug abusers,” Bulger said. Noting that not enough Black men were accessing the open-enrollment college, she said that 40 men are currently enrolled in the program.

“College is probably a hard sell to African-American men, and in this project, African-American men sell the college. African-American men that are leading the project are out front on this. They talk about everything — spiritual, moral, life-changing sorts of things. This becomes a life changing event,” Bulger added.

Other panelists included Dr. Delores A. Parker, vice president for academic and student services for the North Carolina Community College System; Dr. Jennifer Wimbish; president of Cedar Valley College (Texas); and Dr. Walter Bumphus, the A.M. Akin Regents Chair in junior and community college leadership at the University of Texas at Austin.

         

Parker spoke of the Minority Male Mentoring Program at the North Carolina Community College System, which aims to boost retention and graduation rates of minority males; provide personal development opportunities for this group of at-risk youth; provide drug and substance abuse counseling; and identify innovative approaches to increase academic and professional student success.

During her presentation, Parker asked audience members to raise their hands if they lived in states that were not building prisons. No one raised a hand.

“If we don’t do something about this issue, people are going to be incarcerated,” Parker said. “Some states decide prison building plans based on the reading levels in fifth grade. So if we know that, it’s something that everybody has to work on. It’s not a Black-White issue. This is an issue that everyone needs to be concerned about.”

Bunker Hill Community College (Mass.) professors Lloyd Sheldon Johnson and Lee Santos Silva and Northern Essex Community College Assistant Dean Charles Phair presented a session titled, “Welcome to Our Campus. Now Go Home: Recruiting, Retaining, and Maintaining Students and Faculty of Color.”

At the start of this provocative session, Johnson and his colleagues purposely guided session attendees to segregate themselves to different parts of the room by race. When a few audience members expressed their displeasure at having been segregated, with one of them saying it “bothered” her, Johnson said, “We wanted to bother you, and I’m happy we have bothered you. Because it puts you in an uncomfortable place, and it gives you a sense about how a lot of students feel when they are in a similar situation.

“When you have maybe the only Black male that comes into an all-White biology class at Bunker Hill, coming from a predominantly Black community, and he’s seated in that class, he feels uncomfortable. Because you know what’s on his mind? I’m all alone,” Johnson added.

He said that many young minority males are constantly tempted by friends to fall into a life of crime and despair, some of who “are going to say, ‘Let’s go smoke a joint’ — that’s the reality, and we have to create a new learning community, a new learning experience,” allowing a young minority male to “pull some of his friends in because they’re going to see a change that’s positive.”

Phair spoke of his many experiences heading up faculty search committees, telling the audience how difficult it is to encourage search committee members to examine their own biases before accepting or rejecting individual candidates. Phair somewhat humorously acknowledged that he has a bias against tall people, saying that those responsible for faculty hiring “need to identify our biases” and “talk openly about them. …  I had to put myself in check as well. I’m certainly not perfect.”

Given the economic turmoil currently affecting the United States, NISOD Director Evelyn N. Waiwaiole said she was “shocked” by the turnout to the conference, which drew people from 600 two-year colleges from eight countries.

“Truthfully, with the economy the way it is today, we are pleasantly surprised at the numbers that have come,” Waiwaiole said. “An amazing wealth of knowledge has come together for a learning event where we all learn together,” she added.

For more information on NISOD, visit http://www.nisod.org/.

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