Black Male Students Coalesce for Success at CSUSB
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
In the Jack H. Brown College at California State University, San Bernardino “Black Education Matters”.
During the 2018-19 Academic Year, 5 percent of California State University students were African-American and although educational institutions have worked to maintain diversity and inclusion of students, employees, and staff, they continue to fall short in this regard.
Dr. Francisca Beer, Professor, Associate Dean and Director of the CSUSB Jack H. Brown College Office of Academic Equity stressed how despite what institutions have talked about regarding diversity, inclusion and equity, “As far as Black men are concerned, we have in fact made very little progress in the college.”
“If you look at data [provided] by the National Center for Education and Statistics for last year or the year before,” she explained. “You will see Black men are all the way down at the bottom among men who go to college, that we retain in college, and who graduate in a timely manner.”
Regarding research which shows such a small percentage of college students are Black, Beer opined, “We all know there are more women than men who go to college—that is true for all ethnic groups, I understand that,” she qualified and asserted. “Even if you are very optimistic and say okay of the 5 percent of students who are Black, there is going to be about half or 2.5 percent of students who are Black men. This is nothing.”
California State University – San Bernardino Undergraduate Ethnic Diversity Breakdown
“Just looking at the numbers and realizing we are educators; we should definitely be alarmed.” These statistics characterized numerous institutions in the country, in California and probably in the Inland Empire. This is why we have created the College’s Office of Academic Equity in 2018. Our Dean, Dr. Lawrence Rose is committed to trying to make changes. “Black Students Education Matters” said Beer.
This was just the beginning of concerns related to Black male students identified by Beer. She highlighted how the data noted above only spoke about new students (incoming freshmen). “You could very well be a new student but never graduate,” she argued. adding, “[O]or, be a new student, let’s say, who enters in 2020 and graduates in eight or nine years.”
These are the kinds of issues she believes need to be explored and discussed. Statistics like these, she admitted, caused her to be alarmed. She even reflected on the lack of diversity in her own teaching experience at the school.
“I realized as a finance professor, 99.9 % of the time I am the only Black woman in the department, let alone a Black man.” I know the University and the college are actively working to recruit a more diverse group of faculty members. We have a new grant, the ADVANCE grant that is focusing on such recruitment. One of the goals of the office is to support the university.”
This year for the first time, Beer shared enthusiastically, there is another woman of color teaching finance in the Accounting and Finance Department. She also acknowledged the Finance Department is different from other departments on campus and further highlighted the evolving makeup of her students.
“I’ve been here 25 years and over the years, I’ve seen the demographics in my classroom changing.” She is seeing more women, including Latinx and a few Black women in her classes but very rarely, Black men.
Dr. Beer who once served as CSUSB’s Interim Dean for Graduate Studies, currently manages the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration’s (JHBC) Office of Academic Equity (OAE), an initiative created to ensure everyone in the College feels connected, engaged and welcomed. Interestingly, although the College’s OAE has a small budget and only a part time staff member, the number of activities generated is impressive. Beer says “the office is small but the potential to make an impact is big.” She added that a large number of faculty in the college have volunteered their time to provide support.
Dr. Francisca Beer, Professor, Associate Dean and Director of the College of Business and Public Administration Office of Academic Equity
(Courtesy of Cal State San Bernardino)
These leadership positions in addition to her classroom experience coalesced into an opportunity for her to mentor a couple of African American men who wanted to continue their education and needed to be involved in research, etc. Through those mentoring activities Beer realized in addition to Black men representing such a small part of the student populace, some of them are homeless and dealing with a myriad of other concerns. “Again, the statistics in our community are alarming,” she reiterated.
Working closely with her graduate mentees, Adim Eboka and Nicholas Jenkins, who both happened to be former presidents of the Student African-American Brotherhood (SAAB) on the campus whose main purpose is to increase the retention and graduation rate of African American males, they worked to give “voice” to the underrepresented Black males students in the college.
Their efforts resulted in the production of OAE’s highly acclaimed, The Voice Series, which provides a safe space for Black students on campus to openly discuss their views regarding their specific educational needs. Each video in the series explores unique and specific issues pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The discussions and video series continues to bring awareness to issues of inequality and inclusion. When the first video was created two years ago, it generated international interest and Beer was invited to present the film in Scotland.
Beer, Eboka and Jenkins concur events such as OAE’s The Voice Series illuminate some of the issues hindering the success of Black male students by allowing their concerns to be discovered and addressed. All are hopeful such open dialogue will yield a better understanding of how to help these students succeed. As Beer advised, conversation and consideration of the things important to Black male students can make a difference.
“African American men wanted to be together and talk together,” she shared. “Because of that, instead of having this conversation with the whole college, I decided to have specific events to talk with African-American men. We called it The Voice, but it could have been any name.” During the first session they asked the participants directly, “What do you need? Can we be candid here, between us!”
Dr. Beer leads discussion with Black Male Students during inaugural session of The Voice
Although the discussion was designed to explore academic needs, the discussions focused on three major areas including general well-being as a critical aspect of every student’s life including mental health; housing, especially the challenges homeless students face in areas like managing financial responsibilities and just successfully navigating their daily life on campus; and equally important, the issue of food insecurity. CSU reported 46.1% of its students experience food insecurity and nearly 11% have experienced homelessness.
Well Being and Basic Needs
(Courtesy Cal State San Bernardino)
“The second session we organized with the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). I teamed up with them because of their ability to reach others, and the beauty was that one of my students was president of the brotherhood.” Beer successfully recruited him to join the effort.
She described the SAAB input as invaluable. It included the need to address Black male students’ feelings of isolation, of not being part of the group, of the lack of tutoring, lack of mentoring, a lack of role-models, lack of support including financial, academic etc. “So,” she declared, “We decided to address one issue at a time.”
Dr. Beer with Black Male Student participants in The Voice series
Yera Nanan (center row 2nd from right in stripe shirt)
(Image courtesy Cal State San Bernardino)
Mentor-mentee relationships are viewed as important to these student’s success as it undergirds their ability to develop a network and resources they may not have access to, at least initially.
Some students also reported some faculty members gave them far less attention and support than given to some of their peers. They expressed hope OAE can help address the feelings of neglect they experience.
“One of the young men shared he experienced unconscious bias with some of their professors.” Beer explained how we may not always realize we have these unconscious biases for any number of reasons but when brought to attention, it creates awareness. “Whatever the reason, what is important is for people to realize what they say can affect the success of the specific group.”
“The College and the university have created several training opportunities to help us to understand biases, micro-aggression etc.”
Many of these Black men are also first-generation college students and this accomplishment comes with challenges including the need for information about financial aid often critical to their success. There is limited information for Black students about opportunities and paths to achieving their educational and career goals. Even when such information is available, many lack the finances needed to avail themselves to such opportunities.
“This is how The Voice series started,” Beer explained reflecting. “In fact, the first Voice series was designed to listen to the academic needs of the students.” But, the first session took a path of its own. “We did not talk about learning at all,” she acknowledged explaining the session was overwhelming from the very beginning when they said to her, “[W]ait, before we talk about learning, we want to talk about homelessness.” They went on to talk about homelessness, food insecurity and mental health needs.
“We ended up talking solely about that,” Beer confirmed. She refers to these students as her “heroes” for their determination to persevere toward their educational goals despite such overwhelming obstacles.
Part 1 The Voice Episode One: Attitudes, Beliefs and Perspectives
“This program was a great opportunity for Black mMale leaders on our campus to get together and speak about how we are underrepresented on campus,” said recent CSUSB graduate Yera Nanan, a participant in the Voice Series. “Everyone had an equal opportunity to speak and share their thoughts about what they felt was important to them.”
He described Dr. Beer as a great facilitator who stimulated their discussion with remarkably probing questions. According to Nanan, although he did not feel left out of the campus community as a student in the school’s College of Arts and Letters, he acknowledged others who participated in the discussion had different campus experiences.
“All in all, this made for a great discussion that showcased different opinions and perspectives about how Black males fit in at CSUSB.”
“The Voice was initially designed to address the Jack Brown College students only. Interestingly, students from other colleges decided to join the event,” said Beer.
Now, more cognizant of their concerns, OAE is beginning to address them by providing improved mentorship and resources for Black male students and by partnering with the College’s Student Success Center to ensure access to information about internship opportunities, resume preparation, and scholarships is readily accessible.
Beer added, “Development of support systems for incoming Black, first-generation students will hopefully help foster these students’ abilities to grow strong identities as Black men, successful students, and future graduates.
Beer is also focused on establishing more contact with Black businesses and the Black Chamber of Commerce hoping to engage Black professionals to become classroom guests lecturers or “professors-for-a-day.”
Enhancing the College’s ability to better serve its diverse student population is important to Dr. Beer and the dean.
“When the dean and I thought about creating the Office of Academic Equity, we realized it was time to really be serious about diversity and inclusion for all students, staff and faculty.”
Readers who care about higher education and the challenges faced by Black male students are encouraged to view the first video by Dr. Beer on this subject titled, Attitudes, Beliefs and Perceptions African American Men.
In the Jack Brown College of Business and Public Administration “Black Students Education Matters” says Beer.
S.E. Williams is editor of the IE Voice and Black News.