African American Males in Higher Education: Reframing the Issue

Article excerpt

Despite the many problems that plague

African-American males, the practice of

classifying us as an "endangered species" has

always struck me as a convenient, but a

regrettable, sound bite. Granted, the current

data on African-American males on such

indices as college enrollment, prison statistics,

and college and high school completion rates

are dismal at best and frightening at worst.

However, like all sound bites, "endangered

species" not only overstates the case, it hides

a large portion of the real picture. Even a

cursory glance at the total reality will show

that thousands of African-American males are

achieving high levels of academic success.

This is especially true concerning higher

education, where African-American males

-- including students, faculty, and staff -- are

forced to deal with the same negative societal

issues as other African-American males. For

example, institutional and personal racism is

alive and well on college and university

campuses. Also, the lack of positive

African-American role models is a serious

problem. On most historically white

university campuses, most African-American

males are in low-paying service jobs. Even a

tenured full-professor, administrator, Roman

Catholic priest (like this writer) is often given

more than his share of the elevator space when

he shares it with white women on many

university campuses. So racism, favoritism,

and policies and practices of exclusion still

have a negative impact on African-American

males on college and university campuses.

Nevertheless, if we are going to improve

our lot, we must reframe the issues. We must

move from a deficient

"blame-the-victim" model to one that says not

only that we can be successful, but we WILL

be successful. We must begin by reframing our

perception of our status. Rather than seeing

ourselves as victims, we must see ourselves as

creators of our own destiny. Rather than

seeing ourselves as an endangered species, we

must draw' strength and courage from our 500

years 19 of struggling against -- and often overcoming

the hurdles of racism and other forms of

bigotry.

We must not allow others to cast us on the

endangered species list. If anything endangers

us, it is our passive acceptance of being

classified as endangered. Concretely, we must

not allow others to deprive us of academic

success. …