What Works: Chapter 9, How Can We Ensure Young Men of Color Are Not Left Behind?

A Book About Raising Boys, Engaging Guys, and Educating Men

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How Can We Ensure Young Men of Color Are Not Left Behind?
By Dr. Bryant Marks

Although terms like "endangered species," "at-risk," and "deviant" are sometimes used to describe young Black and Hispanic males, males of color (MOC) are flesh and blood human beings just like everyone else. They eat and breathe, they love and laugh, they cry and can be hurt emotionally. Members of each of these groups are diverse in terms of socio-economic status, life experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and achievements. For the most part, society holds positive perceptions of young Asian-American men regarding their academic achievement, and research confirms that they do indeed perform well relative to other racial groups. African American, Hispanic American, and Native American young men, however, do not enjoy such positive academic perceptions, due to the achievement gap that exists between them and White and Asian males. Because the purpose of this essay is to identify strategies that ensure young men of color are not left behind academically, MOC will refer to males who current data suggest are most likely to be left behind: African American, Hispanic American, and Native American males in college.

Three categories of strategies should be considered when attempting to ensure that MOC are not left behind: 1) general strategies, 2) strategies shown to work in higher education, and 3) strategies that have promise based upon achievement research.

General Strategies: Conditions that Facilitate Learning and Mastery
It has been shown that most human beings can achieve proficiency in most tasks when provided with the conditions that facilitate learning and mastery; the same holds true for minority males and academic achievement. MOC exposed to the following conditions from kindergarten through college have been shown to learn just as well as anyone else:1) meeting basic physical and socio-emotional needs, 2) regular and sufficient time on task, 3) a skilled, knowledgeable teacher with an engaging delivery style who truly believes that all students can learn, and 4) motivation to learn on the part of the student.

Proven Strategies in Higher Education
Over the last twenty years, there has been a significant increase in empirical research examining the strategies that enhance the academic achievement of college MOC. The following is a robust, but not completely exhaustive list of strategies that have proven effective: learning communities/cohort models; college success workshops; cultural awareness workshops; academic early alert systems; high academic expectations of MOC among faculty, staff, and MOC themselves; institutional engagement outside of the classroom; faculty development regarding MOC; addressing financial needs; learning style and career interest assessments; and mentoring.

Strategies with Promise
One of the most striking things I have noticed in my work on college MOC is the lack of specific knowledge among college leadership, faculty, and staff regarding the state of MOC on their campuses. Many of them did not know the enrollment, retention, graduation, or achievement differences of MOC in comparison to females of color or the White population. I very strongly recommend that institutions conduct self-studies in which they 1) disaggregate existing data (e.g., SAT/ACT scores, retention and graduation rates) by race and gender, 2) assess psycho-social college readiness (e.g., delaying gratification), and 3) share analyses with relevant campus units such that evidence-based practices could be implemented, then conduct short, medium, and long term follow-up assessments.

Finally, I fervently encourage institutions to develop the willpower of MOC. More formally known as self-regulation, willpower is simply the ability to begin and persist in actions toward a goal in the face of equally or more attractive alternatives. Willpower is like a muscle; the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes and it can be used to complete various tasks. Just as the same arm muscles can be used to lift a fork, a book, or a phone, the same mental muscles can be used to study every night, get to class on time, and exercise regularly. Yes, society has put a lot of weight on the shoulders of MOC, but the institutions that can develop willpower among these young men will very likely see them carry their respective loads via excellence inside and outside of the classroom.

Bryant Marks (B.A. Morehouse; M.A. and Ph. D. University of Michigan) is an Associate Professor of Psychology & Director of the Morehouse Male Initiative. The mission of the Morehouse [College] Male Initiative is to identify factors that foster an affirmative personal and academic development of Black males. He is also a faculty associate with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

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