In the spring of 2008, Gallaudet University started its Keeping the Promise: Educating Black Deaf Males (KTP-B) program with the goal to graduate more Black deaf male students.
"Black students' dismal graduation rates, lower than any other racial group at Gallaudet, were a well-known fact," says Bunmi Aina, director of Keeping the Promise.
Of the 11 Black students of both genders who entered Gallaudet in 2000, just one graduated by 2006. That 9 percent graduation rate was just one indicator that all was not well at the university. Black male students had limited opportunities to bond and to connect with others under like stresses of adapting to an environment where they sensed "discomfort" among majority students.
In a fall 2007 survey, they described Gallaudet's atmosphere as "unwelcoming."
Gallaudet University in 2007 was in turmoil for additional reasons. That summer, the Middle States Commission on Higher Learning put Gallaudet on probation. It cited Gallaudet's lack of compliance to several accreditation standards, including its poor record of retaining and graduating minorities.
Losing accreditation would have had major repercussions for Gallaudet if it came to fruition. Students would no longer receive federal financial aid and Congress reportedly threatened to withhold the $108 million that it gave annually to the school. But Gallaudet avoided that fate by nurturing its minority enrollment within the broader effort to address deficiencies in general.
By June 2008, the school transformed itself, and its accreditation was reaffirmed. The transformation included the Keeping the Promise initiative, a comprehensive retention program that addresses the academic and social barriers faced by students of color, housed in the Office of Diversity and Equity that also opened that year.
Turning the Tide
At the end of the 2008-09 academic year, six KTP-B members graduated and found gainful employment. Not counting the graduates, 76 percent of Black deaf males who started the school year in KTP-B stayed through the academic year.
Leaders attribute that high retention rate to KTP-B's social, cultural and educational activities. The program allows Black males to develop social circles to engage their interests and form study groups to address academic challenges. Gallaudet provides opportunities for guidance through life coaches, proactive mentors and role models who help students with academic and social stresses.
KTP's academic skills-building workshops teach students effective note-taking, good questioning skills, how to identify subject matter that is more likely to appear in tests, how to take tests to yield the best possible grades, and how to efficiently work through homework assignments. Other activities include inspirational workshops, external lectures from Black males and higher education success experts and strategy-development workshops on navigating a predominantly White institution.
"The mission of the Office of Diversity and Equity for Students is to empower multicultural students of all backgrounds and differences to achieve academic, career and personal success," says Dr. Ann Powell, acting associate provost of diversity. "Keeping The Promise helps fulfill our mission by providing Black deaf students with the opportunity to improve their self-awareness, increase their appreciation of their own cultural identity and providing support for academic success. Our retention statistics with students in the Keeping The Promise program speaks to our success and the dedication of our staff in supporting them."
Buoyed by the success of KTP-B, the university added in the spring of 2009 Keeping the Promise of Educating Latino Students (KTP-L), and the original KTP program for Black males changed its name to Keeping the Promise: Educating Black Deaf Students to reflect the inclusion of female students. …