Black Males in a State of Emergency - Higher Education

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Black Males in a State of Emergency

by Dana Forde

After he received a letter of acceptance from The Ohio State University, Dominic Saintfort looked forward to tackling a triple major in philosophy, classical studies and political science. And before Saintfort even stepped foot on campus, officials at the university’s Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male alerted him to various student programs and workshops.

A study conducted in 2003 indicated that Black male students at OSU felt isolated, marginalized and unwelcomed at times. However, the Bell Center, founded in honor of OSU graduate and NFL player Todd Anthony Bell, who passed away in 2005, is at the forefront of advising Black male students like Saintfort and guiding them on the path to academic excellence.

“Being at a predominately White university, you often feel alone,” says Saintfort, 20, who is an honors student. “But the programs at the center help to build a comfort level, which has really helped enrich my academic experience at OSU.”

Since the center’s establishment, school officials say that Black male student retention at OSU has steadily increased. The latest available data show that from 2005 to 2006, the first-year retention rate for Black men increased by 4.3 percent. Officials credit the center’s professional and personal development programs, tutoring workshops and mentoring initiatives for its success in keeping Black male students involved on campus and in the community. Although the center is based at OSU, its mission is to examine and address the various societal issues that impact the quality of life of Black men.

Dr. James L. Moore, director of the center and one of the nation’s leading experts on Black males in education, says more programs that target Black male students are needed across the country to ensure a healthier society and to restore a broken education system.

“African-American males represent a state of emergency … whether you’re talking about health, education or the criminal justice system,” says Moore. “At the Bell Center, we have expanded our mission beyond just education, and I look at the Bell Center as a proactive response to some of these indicators.”

As part of its expanded mission, the Bell Center is now a component of a statewide effort to reform public policy. In 1989, the Ohio governor’s office created what is now called the Ohio Commission on African American Males, later established as an independent agency and transferred to the OSU campus last year.

However, Dr. Mac Stewart, chief diversity officer and vice provost for OSU’s Office of Minority Affairs, notes that officials of the university’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity conduct academic research in various areas while the commission is charged with establishing policy.

“The research will inform policy in the areas of education, criminal justice, health and employment,” says Stewart. “Coupled with the Bell Resource Center on the African American Male and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, the commission adds an important component to the university’s efforts to identify the issues and challenges that steer young Black males away from higher education.”

University officials also note that a host of programs — including a financial literacy group and others related to leadership, values and principles, and self awareness — are currently being organized as part of the center’s expanded mission. Additionally, Moore says that the center’s numerous initiatives serve as a bridge to connect young Black men with a new academic environment that may differ from their home base. Many students who come from predominately Black neighborhoods, he says, experience culture shock upon entering predominately White institutions. This type of stress, Moore explains, can have negative effects on students’ academic performance.

“A stigma of inferiority follows the African-American male wherever he goes regardless of the social domain … and for many it’s an uphill battle. Many are successful but too many are not successful,” says Moore, who notes that recent research suggests that more young Black men are suffering from illnesses such as depression and hypertension.

OSU student Richard Nichols, 22, says he was performing poorly in his classes when he was contacted by Bell Center staff offering services. Since then, he has established valuable relationships with students and faculty, which he says have helped transform his outlook on academic life.

“My complete attitude toward school has changed,” Nichols says. “For someone to take the initiative and say they want to help and establish a dialogue with you says a lot … they go out and look for you instead of you having to look for them, and that spoke volumes to me.”

Moore says that although the Bell Center is open to all students regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, there is an aggressive effort to target Black men.

“It’s a social justice issue, and it’s an economic issue. If you don’t target programs for this population, how can we adequately ensure that they are at the table?”

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