Professor: Community colleges need to look at implicit bias against men of color
Words of encouragement from a teacher or a smile of acknowledgment when passing a student in the hallway might seem trivial. But they would have made 12 years of public schooling a lot more welcoming for Kaydon Donald, 18, of Elgin.
Instead, it's the "microaggressions" that stick out in Donald's mind. The subtle slights. The times when teachers perceived black students like him as stupid or lazy for not asking questions or let out exasperated sighs when they did.
Donald, a Larkin High School graduate pursuing an associate degree at Elgin Community College, felt teachers prejudged him based on his skin color, "not knowing that I was an articulate dude."
"I got help different than other students that weren't of my color, so I had to actually work harder than others," he said.
Stories of such experiences are widespread among men of color -- especially blacks and Latinos -- influencing educational outcomes that persist throughout their college and professional careers, says J. Luke Wood, co-director of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab, a national research center collecting data from and training more than 150 schools, colleges and universities nationwide on equity.
"What happens in preschool and kindergarten shapes, oftentimes, experiences that we see in a lot of levels of education," said Wood, giving a keynote address recently at Elgin Community College's first Men of Color Summit. "If we want our students to not only go to college but to persist, to achieve, to complete their degree, to transfer and to go into the labor market, we need them to have an experience that affirms them and their very presence in the institution."
Wood is a professor of education and chief diversity officer for San Diego State University. His research focuses on factors affecting the success of boys and men of color in education. He discussed the challenges and opportunities for men of color on community college campuses and strategies to retain them.
Wood said how teachers engage with a student affects their relationship, how they teach and ultimately whether the student is successful. Yet, most colleges miss the part about training faculty and staff members on perceptions and implicit biases.
According to the center's research, 52% of black and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school in four years. After graduation, roughly one-third of black and Latino men pursue postsecondary education, while about 34% of blacks and 46% of Latinos are unemployed, 21% of blacks and nearly 14% of Latinos are employed, and nearly 10% of blacks and 5% of Latinos are incarcerated, data shows.
A majority of black and Latino men attending community colleges nationwide are first-generation collegegoers and come from low-income families. Nearly 44% require remedial classes and about 50% attend college part time, data shows.
Wood said the focus must shift from blaming students to placing the onus on schools and colleges to provide intensive interventions to remediate disparities in the results of disproportionately affected groups, such as students of color, former foster youths, and students with disabilities, food and housing insecurities, and former incarceration.
"We do not want to focus on student deficit," Wood said. "It's changing that mindset. We have to critically reflect upon our own role in perpetuating these disparities ... and then hold one another accountable for changing it."
Typical interventions include guided pathway programs, online learning, basic needs assistance, early alert systems to flag when students are failing, promise programs, and student success planning and mentoring.
Ultimately, equity must be at the center of all interventions, Wood said.
For instance, he said, without technology, students cannot access online learning opportunities. And early alert systems notifying students halfway through a semester that they are failing often lead to more dropouts because students feel hopeless.
This fall, Elgin Community College has launched a minority student mentoring program, TRIUMPH -- or Transforming and Impacting Undergraduate Men Pursuing Higher Education, which has been successful at Waubonsee Community and Triton colleges.
It focuses on increasing the number of men of color graduating college. This year, 13 students are part of the program.
"We're building them up with soft skills ... those intangible skills that help them be successful," said Erik Enders, ECC student life coordinator for targeted populations and TRIUMPH adviser.
Students learn time and emotion management, conflict resolution, financial literacy, and how to schedule, set goals, dress properly and communicate with professors. They also learn where to get help for a college paper, tutoring or just to talk about an issue, Enders said.
"Hopefully, in the time of need or challenge ... they will be willing to then take advantage of what's available to them," Enders said.