Community Colleges Taking the Lead to Serve Men of ColorBridget Herrin | Director, Center for Organizational Responsibility and Advancement
In our current era, discussion of Black and Latino male issues has become common among news analysts, bloggers and politicians. The elevated discourse is a result of high-profile killings of young Black men such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice as well as President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which was designed to enhance the life and educational outcomes for boys and men of color.
The go-to characterization by many commentators has been to blame Black and Brown males themselves, their families and their communities for hostile encounters with police, underemployment and disparate outcomes in education. In schools and colleges, this deficit mindset has produced a proliferation of mentoring and professional skills development programs that try to remediate males for their perceived inadequacies and deficits. While such programs are numerous, few demonstrate meaningful impact on academic success beyond a small cadre of program participants.
A number of California community colleges—including Cuyamaca College, MiraCosta College, San Diego Mesa College and San Diego City College—have recognized the limited utility of the “remediate the student” approach to education. Instead, they are tackling the achievement gap using a totally different strategy, one that situates the onus of success on the institution itself and targets interventions on educators and students alike. These colleges have partnered with our team at the Center for Organizational Responsibility and Advancement (CORA) to deliver an online professional development program that helps better prepare faculty members to teach men of color. This is critical, as faculty represent the educational professionals with the most regular and intensive interactions with students. Moreover, many faculty members have never been afforded training on how to teach, let alone received intensive development on how to do so with historically underrepresented and underserved populations.
These trailblazing colleges are set apart from their peers in that their strategy is large scale. Each college is making the program available to all their adjunct and full-time faculty members throughout the academic year. Moreover, each has set forth targeted strategies to ensure that broad participation actually occurs. College partners are drawn to the program due to the scalability and flexibility of the online delivery, and we have had senior leaders express sincere excitement at the opportunity this intervention presents for faculty to elevate their understanding and drive student success.
The CORA program was developed by myself, J. Luke Wood and Frank Harris III based on our extensive research on the experiences and outcomes of boys and men of color in education. The program comes in the form of an online, intensive training that provides faculty with strategies to build relationships with men of color and to use research-based teaching and learning practices in the classroom. Based on our assessment results, program participants are actually gaining the skills necessary to advance the teaching and learning experience of college men of color. Participants demonstrate a greater commitment to collaborative learning, building personal relationships with men of color, using culturally relevant teaching and course materials, and intrusive practices. They also demonstrate a greater awareness of racial microaggressions (subtle, often unconscious, racial slights). These are a handful among a number of key strategies taught in the program.
The program is a vast departure from the normal professional development activities undertaken at many colleges and universities. In most cases, if professional development on teaching men of color takes place, the format is usually restricted to a one-time, hour long, lunchtime workshop with a small number of participants who voluntarily attend and already possess strategies to effectively teach men of color. In such cases, the attendees represent the proverbial choir of those who are already campus advocates for these men. Educators who really need the training and development rarely attend these events, and when they do, the one-time workshop approach does little (if anything) for their preparedness. In contrast to normal practice, the CORA program is a one-week program, with video modules, readings, reflections and live interactive sessions with program facilitators.
This structure allows for greater comprehension of concepts and strategies, and more opportunities for faculty members to engage the common misconceptions about men of color in college. For instance, men of color are often perceived as criminals and deviants in society. These perceptions have led to the high-profile killings of many young men. There is no magic barrier that prevents educators from having similar perceptions of college men of color. As such, some faculty may harbor unconscious perceptions of men of color that influence their interactions with them in class and on campus. In fact a 2010 report from the MDRC found that community college men of color noted that some educators perceived them as being “violent” and “thugs.” The program addresses these perceptions, providing extensive insight into the prevalence of these conditions and how they influence student success.
CORA is representative of a growing number of organizations that have responded to President Obama’s call to improve the lives of boys and men of color, many of which are attentive to educational disparities. In spring of 2016, CORA will launch the early education and high school versions of the program, focused on teaching boys and young men of color in education. By extending this type of large-scale development to professionals across the educational pipeline, the potential for real change in the ever-enduring struggle for student success may be possible.