U. of Washington piloting model for supporting male students of color

Given evidence that male students of color often find college life isolating, a research project at the University of Washington in Seattle is working to unearth strategies that “empower undergraduate males of color to thrive on campus and graduate prepared for a lifetime of leadership, service, and success.” Profiled recently in The Seattle Times, the three-year-old Brotherhood Initiative program does this by providing male students of color with mentors, connecting them with internships and research opportunities, encouraging them to study abroad and get involved in their communities, and offering academic assistance.

Participants also take several seminar courses covering topics ranging from study skills to models of healthy masculinity, financial literacy, tactics for navigating higher education, and academic planning. The longitudinal study involves leaders at the highest levels of the UW’s administration and reflects survey responses from university faculty and students, best practices from peer institutions, and research findings. A committee composed of administrators, faculty, and advisors helps guide the pilot program, and a team of educators conducts quarterly reviews of participating students’ transcripts to note successes and opportunities for further support.

Reducing isolation to boost students’ chance of completion

The program also seeks to ease feelings of loneliness and build community. Male students of color—especially at the UW, where Black men account for just 1.3 percent of undergraduates—can sometimes go days without seeing someone who looks like them, said Shaun Harper, founder and executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center.

In creating the Brotherhood Initiative—whose strategies reflect some of Harper’s research findings—UW leaders recognized that “it’s cognitively demanding for men of color to come to predominantly white institutions, to be in a classroom with people who don’t look like them,” adds Joe Lott, an associate professor in the UW’s College of Education, who is African American. “A lot of energy is devoted to asking, ‘Do I belong here? Should I be here?’”

The program “makes us all feel a lot closer to one another and care less about being judged for what we don’t know,” Madison Douglas, a sophomore who participates in The Brotherhood Initiative, told the The Seattle Times. “Knowing that they have struggled with real life situations that I too have struggled with makes it easier for me to show the side of me that struggles academically.”

The university is building a “model other colleges and universities can look to in future years for guidance and inspiration,” said Harper. Early results indicate that the 60 current members of the Brotherhood Initiative have earned higher GPAs and become more engaged on campus than peers who aren’t participating in the program.

Ample opportunities to close completion gaps

Recent reports reinforce the need to increase the representation, and completion rates, of people of color on college campuses across the country. Although college completion rates for students of color have increased somewhat over the years, there persist wide completion gaps between students of color and their white counterparts. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, 48 percent of Black students who started studying at a four-year college in 2012 graduated within six years, compared with 72 percent of white students who started that same year.

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