Black Male Student Leaders in Predominantly White Universities: Stories of Power, Preservation, and Persistence

By Hotchkins, Bryan K.; Dancy, T. Elon | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Black Male Student Leaders in Predominantly White Universities: Stories of Power, Preservation, and Persistence


Hotchkins, Bryan K., Dancy, T. Elon, The Western Journal of Black Studies


The subject of Black male collegiate persistence has been broached by a variety of scholars and ranges from achieving belongingness while overcoming a dissimilar dominant culture (Dancy, 2012; Hurd, 2000; Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Strayhorn, 2012), to denial of welcoming academic environments (Fleming, 1984), adjusting to toxic campus climates (Smith, Allen & Danley, 2007) and prevailing over 'onlyness' (Harper, 2013) experienced while attending predominantly white institutional (PWI) environments. Literature has loosely framed African American male persistence as the ability to successfully transition into a new collegiate environment and overcome a variety of academic, systemic and racial impediments (Cuyjet, 1997; Locks, Bowman, Hurtado, & Oseguera, 2006; Tinto, 2003). In part, we submit that employing persistence strategies increases the likelihood of Black males not only overcoming systemic, racial and academic hindrances, but also contributes to these Black males completing college. To this end, the organizations Black males join, and choose to affiliate with play an increasingly major role in determining how they persist (Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Hotchkins, 2014) based on leadership choices they make. Further, these experiences become teachable moments in which non-cognitive skills (e.g., persistence strategies, communicative abilities) are developed but in racialized ways (Dancy, 2014).

The findings of this particular study frame the usage of persistence strategies (e.g. tactical engagements with White peers dedicated to achieving positive Black student outcomes), as enacted by participants, as ways to respond to the affects of cumulative racialized stressors like racial battle fatigue (Smith, Hung & Franklin, 2011) and racial microaggressions (Sue et al., 2007). This narrative inquiry study uses personal experiences as a method of ethnographic research among Black male student leaders. Specifically, the collegiate life stories of four African American males experiencing racial battle fatigue, while leading in predominantly White organizations, and their persistence strategies are described and analyzed. By utilizing a three-dimensional narrative inquiry to re-story field texts, participant's narratives are presented to make sense of life as an organizational leader who experiences racial stressors, yet persists.

Life as a Leader in Progress

Oscar J. Martin celebrated his reelection to the position of President for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), at Utopia University, during the gathering of data for this research in the fall of 2012. Oscar's "White colleagues," in his words, were "in need of cultural policing" despite being active in the marketing, promoting, and supporting of his second presidential bid for PRSSA. Oscar's leadership preparation, and racial socialization began at home years before arriving at Utopia University. He was the first person in his family to attend college. His aspirations of becoming a social media mogul were informed by the creation and success of business entities like Facebook, Twitter, and Vine. As a frequent user of various social media platforms for personal, social, and organizational leadership purposes, Oscar said he understands the value of being "easily connected to people with overlapping interests, concerns, and drive because accessibility is important for any leader who can be followed in both the real and virtual world." During Oscar's sophomore year he decided to become more involved on campus, because he felt isolated socially and culturally, and decided to join the historically Black Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to find a sense of cultural congruency.

As a first-generation, junior communications major, Oscar often finds himself involved in both social and professional leadership positions. When asked how he defines leadership, he offered the following: "the act --leadership is the act of, uh, leading in a literal and positive manner and also sacrificing things to get better things accomplished. …

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