What Are Successful Black Male Students Doing?
What are high-achieving black men—and their families—doing to help them succeed in college?
Rather than looking at black student achievement in a deficit model—which focuses on what students who fail to achieve are doing wrong—a new report looks at what black students who have been successful in college have done right. Researchers interviewed 219 black undergraduates on 42 campuses to identify qualitatively successful strategies for success in higher education.
Author Shaun Harper sees this approach as counteracting an overwhelming media and research focus on the deficit model.
“For nearly a decade, I have argued that those who are interested in Black male student success have much to learn from Black men who have actually been successful,” he wrote in the report's introduction. “To increase their educational attainment, the popular one-sided emphasis on failure and low-performing Black male undergraduates must be counterbalanced with insights gathered from those who somehow manage to navigate their way to and through higher education, despite all that is stacked against them.”
Among other findings, researchers found that supportive families that were assertive in securing educational resources were a strong indicator for success. In college, achievers tended to develop positive responses to racism or pressure to act as a spokesperson for black males in general, avoiding angry responses and using those incidents as teachable moments.
The report was released by the Center for the Study of Race and Equity Education, a new project run by Harper at the University of Pennsylvania that aims to bring together experts from different fields to contribute to a conversation about race and education.
“Black male student leaders also played an important role in helping the achievers transition smoothly to their colleges and universities,” reads the report. “In the interviews, several participants named same-race peers, namely juniors and seniors, who reached out to them early in their first semester at the institution to share navigational insights and resources, connect them to powerful information networks, and introduce them to value-added engagement opportunities on campus.”
The report is forthright, though, about the challenges facing black male students in the United States, where just 47 percent graduate from high school on time and many who make it to college are under-prepared.
The report comes on the heels of a controversial report by Duke University arguing that improvements in academic performance among black students has been caused by black students enrolling in less harshly-graded fields in the humanities and social sciences
Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.