Men of color share stories of persistence, success

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Men of color in community colleges face an array of challenges today.  Low enrollment, retention and  completion rates among this population are constantly discussed in academic environments, educational research and in the media. 

These issues have been further heightened by Covid-19 and the other pandemic: racism.

There’s much to learn from those students who have persisted and completed.  Here are the stories of some of those students.

Up to the challenge

Bryan Arredondo

Bryan Arredondo, a recent graduate of Elgin Community College, stated that at the start of the pandemic he felt “fear, confusion and discouraged.”  At one point, Arredondo, who identifies as Mexican, thought of dropping out of school to work and to help his family. 

With the help of the faculty at Elgin, he was able to continue his education, overcome his challenges, and says that the outreach and support from the college “never made him feel alone.”   

Arredondo says that community colleges must be open to listen to student voices and be sure to meet male students where they are.  He encourages male students of color to “dare to be different” and to find a mentor that will guide and support them.

Recently graduating with an associate in applied science, Arredondo wants other males of color in community colleges to “be up to the challenge,” stay motivated despite the low educational outcomes projected for this population and to know that “they are the future of the world.” 

Creating a community

Chandlor Henderson

At Lane Community College in Oregon, Chandlor Henderson serves as the editor of the campus newspaper, The Torch.  He is majoring in multi-media design and will continue his education at the University of Oregon this fall. 

The faculty and staff at Lane “did their best to assist students to adjust to remote learning,” he says.

“The change to remote learning worked for me, although there were times that I felt like I was in a fishbowl,” says Henderson.  Having multimedia resources available helped him to adjust.  However, as a design major, there were challenges with assignments, supplies and even the mode of course delivery. 

Henderson, who identifies as Black/African American, earned the prestigious Google News Initiative Fellowship in August 2020.  He says that despite his circumstances, he was always pushed and encouraged by his family to attend and finish college. 

He writes a daily blog and has a goal of establishing a global community of Black writers. 

Henderson says that “colleges must build trust, accountability and spaces for male students of color to be successful, if they chose to promote student success.”

From struggle to success

Nigel West majored in general studies and exercise science at Tunxis Community College in Connecticut. He was taking a full-time course load and attending classes on campus.  Initially, he didn’t have any problems with transitioning to remote learning, but, while going through the adjustment to remote learning, he did struggle with getting assignments done and with time management. 

He failed his first class ever as a result.  

West indicated that the murder of George Floyd and the racial strife of 2020 affected him. He was struggling and it showed in one of his writing assignments.  However, what changed his mind set was when one of his professors reached out to him to discuss the assignment, and West says that the outreach alone “meant the world to him” and helped him in overcoming him being dislocated from his coursework.  

Having a “strong Black father” who encouraged and motivated him daily has been essential to his success.  West says there have been times when he was the only person of color in his classes.  West says that community colleges should recognize these situations, acknowledge them and advise students that assistance is there.  He encourages faculty to be fully engaged and not be afraid to talk to male students if they see them struggling. 

West recently transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas, where he will enroll this fall.  

Setting an example

Roderick Murdock

Challenges such as limited interaction with professors, limited software access and just the thought of everything being offered online were reasons that Roderick Murdock says he considered when he thought of not returning to Pulaski Technical College in Arkansas.  Murdock, who is majoring in computer informational systems–cyber security, says his reason for completing was his determination to finish and to show others in his neighborhood that community college is attainable and affordable.

Murdock often thought to himself, “Will I be the next George Floyd?” His neighborhood is a very tough environment, but he has decided to serve as a role model and mentor to set an example and to “uplift” the men of color that he went to school with. 

As for dealing with the racial tone of the country in 2020, Murdock was emotional about it.  His father motivated him, and he felt blessed to have his father.  

Outreach to communities like his are what community colleges must do to show men of color that they can attend college and be successful, Murdock says. The summer bridge program at Pulaski Tech motivated him, with the faculty and staff in that program providing continued encouragement. 

If “community colleges show men of color that they care,” re-enrollment, persistence and completion will not be an issue, he says.

Focused on the finish line

Justin Oldham

According to Justin Oldham, a recent graduate of Alamance Community College in North Carolina, moving to remote learning was one of the hardest things that he had to do.  He describes his transition to online learning as “overwhelming.” 

The racial incidents also had a direct effect on him. Something must be done to reform police departments and officers to “serve and protect,” and to ensure safety for all in all communities, especially for the men of color in these communities, says Oldham, who identifies as Black/African American.  

Oldham considered dropping classes, but he knew that in doing so it would have prolonged his pursuit of a degree. His family showed him the value of education and that despite the obstacles of 2020, he had to overcome his challenges to get his degree. 

The Student Success Club at Alamance also helped him to succeed. However, not having professors of color does play a role in the success of male students of color, he says. 

He wants community colleges to ensure that college advisors and counselors are not only aware, but sensitive to needs of students of color. They should encourage their male students to “stay focused on their dreams and goals and to assist these students when hurdles are placed in front of them.”  

Oldham graduated with an associate of arts in May and will enroll in North Carolina A&T University to pursue his bachelor’s degree. 

Despite the challenges of 2020, and the issues the men of color face in postsecondary education there is so much to learn from men of color who have successfully navigated the pipeline to achieve success.  The achievement and college retention rate gaps between men of color and other learners will not change without the strong leadership of college presidents and trustees and the commitment and involvement of community college faculty.    

About the Author

Kevin Christian
is director of diversity, inclusion and equity at the American Association of Community Colleges.