Voices and Viewpoints

Why Men of Color Support Groups are Important in Higher Education

by Julius Lloyd - BFET Coordinator at South Seattle College / Oct 16, 2019

Although community college campuses are increasingly becoming more racially diverse, racial equity gaps in enrollment, academic preparedness, and completion between white students and students of color persist. The lack of faculty and staff of color on community college campuses is equally problematic and is, I believe, a contributing factor to the perpetual cultural mistrust that often exists between minority students and institutions of higher education.

For students of color to be successful on college campuses, it is imperative to create an environment that promotes the retention and success of faculty and staff of color (Benitez et al., 2017). It is difficult to serve an increasingly diverse student body well if the demographics of faculty and staff do not emulate that diversity. I believe all students reap the benefits when marginalized faculty and staff of color are supported systematically.

Framework and Implementation

In the winter of 2018, 10 key faculty and staff members of color at South Seattle College who are passionate about serving underrepresented students designed a retention and completion initiative for Native American, African American, Southeast Asian, Latino, and Pacific Islander males. The mission of the South Men of Color (SMOC) is to create a safe and inclusive learning environment to foster academic, cultural, and personal growth among male students of color, with a specific equity-minded focus on bridging outcome gaps between students of color and their white counterparts.  

To accomplish this, we first identified two successful support groups--the University of Washington’s Brotherhood Initiative and Tacoma Community College’s Men of Distinction-- that use a similar model to target men of color, first-generation, and low-income college students as a guide to build our own model.

We then built a larger team of stakeholders that included students, faculty, and classified staff along with individuals from varied departments and services who support SMOC student success. Our group meets regularly to discuss program development strategies. During these initial meetings, we identified the necessary resources (i.e., campus resources, campus mentors, and program staff) to initiate SMOC on campus. We also developed and implemented various marketing strategies, including emails, flyers, word of mouth, and other activities to increase awareness of SMOC and boost group participation.

Currently, I am the program lead for the SMOC program. My primary role includes direct support and funding to advance the success of the South Men of Color student scholars. My professional experience spans student intervention, financial literacy, and workforce development. In this role I help bridge the educational achievement gap by addressing socioeconomic issues that influence student success. 

The Impact of SMOC Support

South Men of ColorComprised of a diverse group of faculty, staff, and students, SMOC seeks to provide a sense of belonging to empower students, especially men of color, to thrive on campus. The group offers mentorship, academic advising, financial aid and scholarship assistance, referrals to on- and off-campus resources, and leadership opportunities while providing intervention through personal experiences. We have served women, previously incarcerated students, and students in developmental courses.

A prime example of our role on campus can be illustrated through stories of some of our students. For instance, during the summer of 2019, four students—two of whom were in their first quarter of college, the other two with a couple of credits left to graduate—were on the verge of stopping out due to a lack of support and funding. Because of SMOC’s presence on campus, staff mentors were able to intervene to avoid dropout situations for these students.

Here is what one student shared in his Emergency Funds application testimony that was initiated through SMOC support:

“The emergency funding will allow me to be able to focus more time on school rather than work, I have other bills and obligations that I work to pay off and not being eligible for financial aid, tuition was an additional bill. I only have three classes left until I graduate with an Associate of Arts degree, and by receiving Emergency Funds, it will give me the support to complete my last classes.”

After receiving Emergency Funds support for the summer quarter, the student was able to complete his last two classes without postponing graduation. SMOC mentors helped him get back on track to transfer to the American ethnic studies program at the University of Washington for the winter quarter of 2020. 

Challenges and the Future of SMOC

Although SMOC has some institutional support, we still face three key challenges: (1) a lack of capacity for program staff (this is voluntary work); (2) retention rates among faculty and staff of color; and (3) locating a designated safe space for SMOC students to work, study, and gather as a collective. I hope this blog post will help increase awareness of these challenges and garner more support for addressing them, ultimately helping sustain the program.

The biggest challenges to access and success for nontraditional students at South Seattle College have been financial barriers. Therefore, the stipend that I receive as an Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellow will be used to create a SMOC scholarship for students to apply toward tuition and fees in order to help achieve their academic goals. This scholarship will be leveraged with other funding sources such as financial aid and workforce funding.

Ultimately, I hope this information informs and inspires others to think of creative ways to support faculty and staff of color initiatives at their institutions to better support students of color as they navigate challenging educational systems.

 

Julius Lloyd is an Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellow who has participated in convenings designed to identify culturally responsive practices and further support-building evidence and capacity for this work. Learn more about this project.

South Men of Color photo provided by Julius Lloyd.

References

Benitez, M., James, M., Joshua, K., Perfetti, L. & Vick, B, (2017, June 02). Someone who looks like me: Promoting the success of students of color by promoting the success of faculty of color.
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