I must tell you that I have been torn regarding the recent battle over the rise of African-American Male Initiatives on American collegiate campuses, particularly when they have appeared in the form of residential ‘learning centers’.
I now realize that much of my consternation regarding this matter flowed from an ever-present desire to never offer whites even a hint of implicit support or agreement that African-American collegians, Black males in particular, are somehow inferior to their white and Asian counterparts. The alluded to commitment has caused not only I, but also droves of African-American educators, parents, and concerned citizens to draw a line in the sand regarding all issues revolving around Black Male academic achievement. In no uncertain terms will you ever hear us admit that African-American males are inferior to their academic counterparts in any shape or form.
It was during a discussion regarding this matter that a white colleague gingerly asked the million dollar question, “Well, if African-American males are not inferior why do they need special programs and learning centers? Why are they lagging behind all others at each level of education?”
Although the question did admittedly sting a bit, fortunately the questioner was intelligent enough to realize that the answer to his query was not only complex, but also convoluted with myriad moving parts that were not always applicable to every situation.
After reflecting upon this matter, particularly how it could be best explained, a sense of shame overcame me. This shame was unrelated to any personal inadequacies, rather it was derived from my failure to realize that I was one of the best examples for not only the utility of such outreach campaigns, but also an obvious example of what occurs when such initiatives are unavailable.
Although it is still a bit inexplicable, even to me, somehow I found myself at the ripe age of eighteen-years-old enrolled at Bluffton College, a Mennonite School. I am certain that most have never even heard of a Mennonite, however, if you just image the Amish with electricity you will get a pretty good picture of that population.
At the time, I believe that the enrollment at Bluffton College was a robust 700 students. It did not take long to recognize that not only were there few African-American students, there was not even a single African-American professor on the entire campus. Now this is most certainly not a posting aimed at bashing Bluffton College or any like institution, however, there is no escaping the harsh reality that I did not belong on that campus with those people.
Ironically, my most enjoyable class during my tenure at Bluffton College was an English course taught by an African-American female professor who awakened in me an insatiable desire to learn all that I could about Black History and Literature. I still remember that I was assigned Ethel Waters, an African-American entertainer of yesteryear, as a research project; although I did not realize it at the time, this brief encounter with a Black educator had transformed my life by pushing me toward what I now believe was my destiny; a career as an African-American Studies Professor.
In short time I left Bluffton College, returned home to Mansfield, Ohio, as an academic failure, living in my old bedroom under my parents’ roof and living under their rules. Under such conditions, most parents would demand that their child either work or go to school, however, it was just my luck to be blessed with parents who demanded that I not only get a job, but also go to school. Within a few months I found myself attending The Ohio State University – Mansfield, and within a year I was enrolled at the main campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
By the time that I arrived on the main campus, I had made what many termed a controversial, a polite way of saying unwise and foolish, decision to major in African-American Studies. I must tell you that although it was never officially categorized as such, The Ohio State University African-American Studies Department was a learning community, just not a residential one.
It was there that I, a first-generation collegian, learned the inner-workings of collegiate life from Professors who dedicated their lives to challenging individuals such as myself to reach for and achieve the unimaginable. Alas, I had finally found my place and was no longer aimlessly wondering through both the collegiate experience and life.
It is for this reason that I have no issue with the University of Connecticut’s creation of the ScHOLA2RS House (Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars). To critics and skeptics chagrin, the University of Connecticut has good company in regards to such initiatives aimed at bolstering African-American male’s academic achievement. Highly respected institutions such as Cornell University, MIT, and UC Berkeley have had such ‘learning communities’ in place for long periods of time.
According to Dr. Erik Hines, the Director of UConn’s learning community, the ‘learning community’ was created “to provide a space where men of color can talk about the African-American experience on college campuses.”
Such learning communities are relatively common on collegiate campuses, UConn has 19 such communities that run the gamut upon their focus and participants. The alluded to learning communities provide “students with opportunities to investigate areas of interest, either based on their major or an interdisciplinary topic, through guided courses and co-curricular activities.”
In many ways it is amazing that there is a population of people, a number that illogically includes many African-Americans, who would oppose the alluded to ‘learning communities’ out of a narrow-minded belief that they are a form of modern day segregation. Unfortunately for African-American male collegians, not even the fact that such ‘learning centers’ have proven their worth has been sufficient to end the alluded to resistance.
Such resistance is in a word, inexplicable. And it speaks volumes about the views that critics and nay-sayers hold regarding the potential contributions of African-American males in this nation’s future. Although such individuals vehemently resist such possibilities with all their might, if provided the tools to develop their minds and matriculate from higher education institutions, there is no reason to not believe that African-American males will be central to moving this nation forward on every front.
If considered in that light, it is downright foolish to not provide these you men with the necessary tools to develop their minds, such a matter should be achieved ‘by any means necessary’. Despite what nay-sayers and critics continually state about African-American males, they are the future of this nation and their genius and intellectual contributions are most certainly indispensable to a fast-approaching and definitely uncertain future for America.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016