Creating and maintaining a positive cultural identity is essential to the success of African American students and professionals in higher education. Too often African Americans allow our identity to be created and/or influenced by film and media. Many on-screen images of African Americans contain negative stereotypes and often depict us as hostile, angry and troubled.
In order to create and maintain a positive cultural identity, there must first be a deeper understanding of our own history in America. African Americans in higher education straggle with maintaining a positive cultural identity because we lack a comprehensive knowledge base of our ancestral past. As professionals in higher education, we must encourage our students to enroll in African American studies courses. At Lander University, we provide a course entitled "A History of the Black Experience: From Africa to America." Students completing this course leave with a strong since of pride in their own culture and the African diaspora. Armed with the knowledge of their past, our students become more motivated to excel in college and seek opportunities to better their community.
Motivated African American students need leadership development opportunities beginning their freshman year. At Lander, we provide freshmen with minority peer mentors through a program called R.O.O.T.S. (Reaching Our Objectives Through Solidarity). R.O.O.T.S. is a program designed to encourage and assist first-year African American students with a successful transition into the college environment by providing students with "Big Brother/Big Sister" role models. R.O.O.T.S. mentors help new students with choosing majors, classes, professors, and also provide tutoring in most academic areas. Mentors sponsor social activities for new students that usually end with an educational or motivation presenter. Freshmen who have participated in the R.O.O.T.S. program usually become more academically motivated and involved in campus life.
On White college campuses, African American students can sometimes get lost and become detached from their culture. Many universities only offer programs for their African American students during Black History Month. It is important that professionals in higher education provide year-round cultural awareness activities not just for African American students but also for the education of the entire university population.
A combination of historical education, leadership development, and community programming will begin to help African American students and professionals in higher education create and maintain a positive identity. …