By Mark Wagner & Katie Cleary | The three exploratory case studies discussed in this article were drawn from a Civic Corps project at a public regional university and reveal challenges and obstacles that can disrupt the academic careers of Black male collegians. These barriers include the following: (1) University structures and disciplinary hegemony can suppress the needs of first-generation Black students, preventing the university community, and higher education institutions in general, from “hearing” how we might support them and enable their success; (2) first-generation Black students might require legal services to address conditions off campus that could undermine their persistence and success; and (3) university structures can fail to recognize the dramatic achievements and abilities of Black students. This article highlights how these structural obstacles, which are compounded by cultural, racial, and economic conditions, can be remediated through civic engagement and service-learning, organized by mentors sensitive to the financial, legal, and social needs of young Black men. Building on the minor success of the Civic Corps project, this article hopes to seed more research and to improve institutions’ ability to acknowledge the persistence of inequity and to provide Black students resources and access to programs that include civic engagement and service-learning.
Mark Wagner, Binienda Center for Civic Engagement, Worcester State University; Katie Cleary, Residence Life and Housing, Worcester State University.
This research has been supported by the Strategic Planning Incentive Fund, Worcester State University. The WSU Civic Corps project has been reviewed by the IRB chair and does not require further IRB review or oversight.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mark Wagner, Director, Binienda Center for Civic Engagement, Worcester State University, Student Center 336, 484 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602. Phone: (508) 929-8635. E-mail: email@example.com
Begun in 2015, the Worcester State University (WSU) Civic Corps is based in part on a 2011 program developed at Georgia State University in which the university gave small grants to approximately 200 students identifying as African, Latino, Asian or Native American (ALANA) and who had been dropped from classes for nonpayment. The grants—each less than $1,000 on average (Dovey, Ludgate, & Tutak, 2011)—kept most of the students from dropping out, resulting in higher graduation rates in the long term. Following this example, the partners in the WSU Civic Corps—the Office of Multicultural Affairs, International Programs, the Sociology Department, and the Binienda Center for Civic Engagement—received an internal Strategic Planning Incentive Fund grant of $5,000, which has been renewed by WSU’s leadership for the next three years. This article examines how this financial assistance in combination with the educational tools of civic engagement and service-learning aided three Black male students at WSU.
The WSU Civic Corps has begun each year by working with the Office of Informational Technology to identify ALANA students who have accumulated between 18 and 30 credits and whose expected family contribution or Pell Grant eligibility indicates financial need. Respondents accepted into the program are given $500 for local service and $1,000 to participate in faculty-led study away. To date, 54 students have received Civic Corps scholarships: 11 are active this year and 43 have completed a project; of these 43, six identified as Asian, 11 as Black, 14 as Latino, two as White, and 10 as Mixed Race, 12 graduated, and 28 remain active.
Institution-wide programs and policies to improve the graduation rates of ALANA students include pre-college preparation, admission policies, affirmative action, and financial aid—all of which WSU employs. However, the following case studies explore how civic engagement and service-learning, which are non-traditional educational tools that are underrepresented in current research, remediated traditional obstacles and challenges faced by Black male students at WSU.
At four-year institutions in the Unites States, Black men complete their degrees at the lowest rate compared to all other demographics (DeAngelo, Franke, Hurtado, Pryor, & Tran, 2011; Tate, 2017). To redress this inequity, the case studies in this article explored how civic engagement and service-learning create linkages between classroom learning and real-world experiences to help three students develop a sense of belonging and to support them in overcoming the “battle fatigue” brought on by the negative perceptions of Black males as “threatening, unfriendly, and less intelligent than any other distinguishable segment of the American population” (Cuyjet, 1997, p. 8). Highlighting civic engagement and service-learning organized by mentors who understood the financial, legal, and social challenges of their students, these case studies also allowed us to make specific recommendations aimed at improving the retention and success of Black male students.
Boyer (1994) coined the phrase New American College to describe how civic engagement and service-learning in higher education could contribute to national renewal—a notion supported by Eyler and Giles (1999), Kuh, Kinzie, Cruce, Shoup, and Gonyea (2007), Furco (2010), and Saltmarsh and Hartley (2011), among others. As these scholars have maintained, through service-learning and civic engagement, the academy might effectively present solutions to pressing social, economic, and civic problems.
While ALANA students have historically had the lowest retention and graduation rates in higher education, those rates are lowest for Black males (Tate, 2017). In the past, the experiences and needs of this identity group may have been lost or gone undetected because they made up a small percentage of students, but higher education in the United States has become significantly less White. From 1999 to 2012, college attendance rose 58% among Hispanics/Latinos, 30% among African Americans, and 16% among Whites (Leiberman, 2015). The success of ALANA students, and Black male students in particular, is important to the integrity of higher education. As Travers (2017) wrote:
In the field of higher education, there have been more peer-reviewed journal articles, books and national reports published on black college men than any other group. Yet still only about one-third of black men who enroll in college end up graduating. (p. 2)
While some literature has anticipated civic engagement and service-learning fostering a more inclusive campus climate (Plaut & Campbell, 2008), research on how (or whether) civic engagement and service-learning contributes to the success of ALANA students has been lacking. According to Hickmon (2015):
Race, class, gender and all the other “isms” should be contextualized both in and out of the SL [service-learning] classroom…. Critical reflection about all participants’ subject positions and how they interact with their work and with society at large is necessary if SL is to become a space that moves all who are engaged closer to becoming democratic citizens who operate with values that bend toward justice, equality, and freedom. (p. 88)
For this reason, the authors considered both the literature in civic engagement and service-learning the literature of the Black male experience.
Ehrlich (2000) located civic engagement and service-learning as areas of student development in higher education that “make a difference in the civic life of our communities and develop the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference” (p. vi). This collaboration between institutions of higher education and larger communities represents an opportunity for a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). As the Lumina Foundation (2014) maintained:
Like other forms of application, civic inquiry requires the integration of knowledge and skills acquired in both the broad curriculum and in the student’s specialized field. But because civic preparation also requires engagement—that is, practice in applying those skills to representative questions and problems in the wider society—it should be considered a discrete category of learning. Higher education is experimenting with new ways to prepare students for effective democratic and global citizenship. Virtually all of these efforts use experiential or field-based learning as a means to develop civic insight, competence in public affairs and the ability to contribute to the common good. (p. 9)
If one accepts civic engagement and service-learning as discrete categories of higher learning and as means to a common good, employing these tools to improve the retention and success of ALANA students, and Black male students in particular, will require an understanding of the social and economic milieus in which students develop. Brooms (2017) and Garibaldi (2007) held that examining Black males’ collegiate experiences opens a broad canvas for investigating the intersections of race, gender, history, and political climate. In Being Black, Being Male on Campus, Brooms (2017) noted the “delicate nature of one’s sense of self and how normative masculine constructs might limit one’s development, social interactions and engagement” (p.186).
Critical race theory (CRT) is one way to connect the disciplinary failures of higher education to students’ social and economic situations. Growing out of the work of W.E.B. DuBois (1903/2005), CRT has been used to understand how race is situated within an overwhelmingly oppressive structure. In Dubois’ classic framework, Blacks were born into an internal struggle as a result of being both American and Negro. According to Delgado (1995), CRT evolved further out of legal studies during the 1980s as a movement that sought to account for the persistent role of race and racism in the United States. The phrase driving while Black—reinforced by Ellison (1952/1995), Baldwin (1961), Coates (2015)—illustrated this social tension. Black men “drove” in a White space and faced the conundrum of being both being present and unseen: They were seen by the police as problems while driving but unseen as individuals with rights when confronted by the criminal justice system. They existed as problems or, in extreme cases, targets:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some by feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All nevertheless flutter around it: … How does it feel to be a problem? (DuBois, 1903/2005, p.1)
Multicultural education has developed strategies for responding to the many issues created by the rapidly changing demographics of students in the United States. ALANA student support networks, which took the form of Black student unions, third world alliances and offices of multicultural education, grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s as a way to eliminate discrimination in public accommodations, housing, employment, and education. Arguably, higher education’s multicultural focus grew in large part from the efforts of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which emerged from the first wave of student sit-ins and employed a totalistic approach, combining anti-war movements with a wide variety of programs and practices related to educational equity, women, ethnic groups, language minorities, low-income groups, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, and people with disabilities (Maclean, 2009).
As a compliment to CRT and multicultural education, Blackmaleness is also a useful framework for highlighting some of the forces working against Black men in academic life. Brooms (2017) noted that “Black men [continue] to be viewed as ‘troubled’ which has social, personal, and academic consequences” (p.15). These racial and gender stereotypes have come from media portrayals of Black men as criminal, oversexed, lazy, violent, and unintelligent, and from experiences and social learning over lifetimes in segregated or inhospitable schools and institutions. Educators, however, have not been immune to picking up and acting on such stereotypes. Brooms (2017) wrote:
In theorizing black masculinities, Mutua argues that black men routinely faced suspicion, which narrowed their life possibilities … being black and male on campus leaves them open to an array of challenges and their activities, locations and forms of expression are insignificant in how they are often imagined and projected. (p. 15)
To explore the dynamics of civic engagement and service-learning as it relates to race, Hickmon (2015) recommended “questioning what SL experiences look like across identity groups and working to ensure the pedagogy truly becomes a space dedicated to social justice, community, and equality—values it has always championed” (p. 86).
Three Black male students from WSU’s Civic Corps were identified for this exploratory study. (Pseudonyms have been used in the following cases to respect the students’ confidentiality.) While the Civic Corps’ initial goals were to foster engaged citizenship by promoting civic engagement and service-learning and to support ALANA students at a critical moment in their college experiences, the exploratory case-study method also allowed the authors to better understand complex social, cultural, and economic forces that obstruct academic success for Black male collegians. Such insights served “as powerful rejoinders to the current post-racial discourse” (Baldridge, Hill, & Davis, 2011, p. 133). Moreover, the case studies offered a “narrative pleasure,” allowing the authors to focus more intensely on individuals whose experiences identified broader sociological trends from which the authors could make specific recommendations.
Due to the lack of general knowledge about how civic engagement and service-learning contribute to the retention and success of ALANA students, the exploratory case-study approach provided a phenomenological method for considering the lived experiences of the study participants. Creswell (2013) wrote:
Phenomenology is an approach to qualitative research that focuses on the commonality of a lived experience within a particular group. Through this process the researcher may construct the universal meaning of the event, situation or experience and arrive at a more profound understanding of the phenomenon. (p. 77)
The authors gained access to this lived experience each year by inviting (via email) ALANA students who had accumulated between 18 and 30 credits to apply for a Civic Corps scholarship. In the application, the Civic Corps project asked students to identify a faculty member with whom they wished to work and/or a project on which wanted to focus. If they did not identify a faculty mentor or project, the Civic Corps offered to mentor them in taking on a project, such as Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps preschool literacy program, or another on-going service project that WSU’s civic engagement center supported, such as the Neighbor Helping Neighbor program. In the application, the Civic Corps asked students to explicate the ways in which they had been introduced to civic or community engagement, and what those experiences had meant to their development as students, family members, and agents in their communities.
After evaluating applications, our team of faculty, residential life, and student affairs administrators invited each applicant for an interview during which we explained the expectations of the Civic Corps. Expectations included participating in an afternoon workshop at the start of the semester, attending a retreat at the end of the year, committing to completing a project, and delivering a presentation on the student’s project at either WSU’s annual Celebration of Civic Engagement and/or the annual Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity, both of which took place in April.
Finally, the Civic Corps project addressed issues of the historical fatigue of ALANA students by offering non-traditional forms of mentoring. That is, because WSU has a full-time Center for Civic Engagement, the Civic Corps project was able to provide mentoring that included more than test preparation or tutoring. For example, in one case study, our Center for Civic Engagement provided logistical support in setting up interviews for a study on men in recovery; in two cases, offered transportation to and from service sites; in one, offered legal aid; and in another, helped a student transition from a menial job to employment at a university hospital emergency room. The Civic Corps’ methodology included supportive mechanisms around aspects of student life that went beyond traditional approaches to the retention of ALANA students. Distinct from the Academic Success Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement provided a place to go—a place of belonging—and intervened with respect to students’ projects. These interventions ranged from phone calls to probation officers to setting up presentations with city managers to locating jobs in students’ chosen fields to welcoming friends to apply to the Civic Corps.
Study #1: Ephemera of Grades, Reality of Books
The [Civic Corps] assisted me where I constantly lack, and that is paying for books. My freshman year, I was not able to get my grades to where it needed to be because I was missing books. This semester the aid helped me out and took some weight off my shoulders. — Derek, Civic Corps member
Derek was a business major, a track athlete, and had a fairly severe speech impediment, which lessened as the authors got to know him. His GPA was lower than 2.0 after his first year, which had put his athletic participation at risk. Derek worked on the Neighbor Helping Neighbor civic project, in which students assist elderly neighbors with snow shoveling and yard work. While his $500 Civic Corps scholarship helped Derek to purchase books, he also developed an ongoing relationship with an elderly resident, helping her with her pellet stove, snow removal, and yard cleanup. The resident reported “when [her husband] died, he left me tools to keep the house, but I am now getting too old to use them.” Though this human quality to the Neighbor Helping Neighbor project is critical, when Derek reported that the Civic Corps helped him pay for books, his comment illustrated a central concern of our study—that there are no university structures in place to “listen” to this participant’s particular situation. His “failure” in his first year was not a cognitive, academic occurrence, but an economic hardship. The fact that the university recorded his first year as an academic failure is a matter for discussion.
The modern disciplinary structure of higher education has its roots in the late-19th century, when the primary goals of colleges and universities were to meet societal demands for “marketable” and business-relevant skills (Wallace & Clark, 2017). The structure of academic disciplines has remained largely unchanged since that time. Indeed, the “silo” structure of the disciplines, professional identities, and loyalties—and the resulting “turf language”—have hardened in the 20th century, with the “tribes and territories” of the academy laying claim to discipline-centric knowledge:
These monolithic structures are blocking the next phase in the evolution of universities…. Students lose out too: poorly managed course development across disciplines can lead to a joint degree that is two mealy halves joined together rather than a seamless matrix of ideas and challenges. (Irani, 2018, p. 2).
In Derek’s case, his oppression took the form of economic need, compounded by his inability to ask for help and the university’s inability to create pathways to that help. Derek’s grades in his first year should not be seen as valid assessments, but as codes that misrepresent Derek’s intellectual ability. With access to books, Derek is capable of succeeding in the academic climate (at this writing, after his second year, Derek is again above a 2.0.), but that same climate largely ignores the long-term economic challenges created by academia’s racial myopia.
By its third year, the Civic Corps project began to gain participants by word of mouth. In spring 2018, Sorcy came to the Center for Civic Engagement, asking where to find work that did not require unwieldy interviews and transportation arrangements. “I am a friend of Derek’s,” Sorcy introduced himself. This appeared to be a moment when the identity and character of one Black man was not threatened by the confines of economic needs and stereotype management. Derek and Sorcy were exhibiting cooperative masculinity; because Sorcy felt he could ask for assistance, the economic sphere became, at least for our little network, less racialized. Such referrals are welcome and point to some element of progress in combatting the “pressures, profiling, and insults that all work to diminish the values that black men bring to institutions” (Brooms, 2017, p. 106). When these Black men reached out for help to academics (some of whom were White) through word-of-mouth referrals and to the Neighbor Helping Neighbor project, it felt indicative of some minor transformation of campus-social and campus-public spaces. In addition, while Derek’s speech impediment may prevent verbal elegance, Derek has become a notable figure on campus in the years we have known him. He set a school record in track. He has also referred some of his peers to the center to secure work or support. The Civic Corps project allowed our community to “listen” to a Black man about economic hardship, to celebrate cooperative masculinity among Black men, and to argue for creating and redirecting campus resources to and for them.
Study #2: Black Male Invisibility and the Police
Chris—a tall Black gentleman sporting a sixties-style afro—came to the Center for Civic Engagement one day. He needed community service hours. In September 2016, while driving he had swerved to avoid an accident, and in doing so hit a light pole with his car. The police told Chris they needed to impound his car, claiming that he had damaged city property. Chris explained that his car was drivable, that he lived nearby and would drive home. The police refused to let him do so, and the situation escalated. As the police refused to hear this young man’s interpretation of events and prevented him from keeping his car, Chris repeatedly verbally insulted the officers. The officers arrested Chris, eventually charging him with seven counts, including resisting arrest. They impounded his car and phone, and temporarily jailed him until he could be released on his own personal recognizance.
The Civic Corps accepted Chris as a member and began a two-year journey in which the Center for Civic Engagement provided mentoring and legal aid to support Chris in clearing this event from his record. The authors met with Chris frequently, sometimes more than twice a week, and secured him a job at the local YMCA. The head trainer, Brenda, was a local activist, on a first name basis with the police chief and congressional representatives. Through Brenda, who added to this narrative, we not only advocated that Chris’ case be dropped, but also questioned the actions of the police.
Historical circumstances might have played a role in both Chris’ frustration and the police officers’ overreaction. In the month in which Chris was arrested, Black Lives Matter (BLM) was active in protesting police brutality. In Baltimore, BLM activists marched as hearings began in the Freddy Gray police brutality case. Chris informed us that he had been stopped 18 times, in what were clearly driving while Black incidents (Kocieniewski & Hanely, 2000). Brenda informed Chris that, in Massachusetts’ courts, the claim that a person developed anxiety around police officers serves as a valid defense.
At the same time Brenda and the university’s Center for Civic Engagement began to advocate for Chris in the legal system, Chris designed and delivered a chess program at Valley View School, teaching fifth graders the intricacies of the game. He also began to work with the YMCA’s Super Saturdays program for teens. As he told us:
I was always one of the kids who ended up going to school early…. One day, someone grabbed the chess set sitting idly in a corner of the classroom. Then we started learning, teaching ourselves every single morning for pretty much the whole year of school.
About his involvement with the program at Valley View, Chris’ mentor wrote:
Chris was a tremendous asset to [the] … Chess Club. The students looked forward to his Thursday visits to ask him chess questions and challenge him to a game. He developed a friendly competitive relationship with the students where he would challenge and teach at the same time.
Chris “found us” as a result of his community-service requirement (as a result of his incident with the police), but this pointed to the question: How is it that most public higher education institutions do not have dedicated resources for students facing legal issues?
Heilman (2014) wrote: The devastating effect that even a “minor” legal issue can have on an individual’s academic progress makes it essential for both law professionals and academic leaders to recognize the absolute need for students to have access to low-cost/no-cost legal aid: providing assistance, advice, referrals, and representation. A single instance of this need going unattended can completely derail an individual’s academic and career progress—in some cases, irreversibly. (p. 5)
Many Student Legal Services (SLS) programs developed in the 1960s and 1970s at colleges and universities did not survive education reform in the ensuing decades. Yet, the rise of BLM (for instance) highlighted the need for legal assistance for students. Some larger universities did maintain SLS programs. From its inception through June 2013, Rutgers referred 746 cases through its SLS program—but Rutgers is an exception. The totalistic approach to social justice issues that began in the 1960s has broken up into Pride movements, Women’s studies departments, disability service offices, and the creation of “Black spaces.” As social commentator David Brooks (2018) opined:
There is a misplaced idolization of diversity. The great achievement of the meritocracy is that it has widened opportunities to those who were formerly oppressed. But diversity is a midpoint, not an endpoint. Just as a mind has to be opened so that it can close on something, an organization has to be diverse so that different perspectives can serve some end. Diversity for its own sake, without a common telos, is infinitely centrifugal, and leads to social fragmentation. (para. 4)
This social fragmentation has left behind elements of the original purposes of multicultural education, one of which was student legal assistance. However, colleges and universities may serve as resources for rethinking the surging corrections cases and populations in the nation’s prisons. To this point, on February 28, 2018, Chris came into our office and showed off his signed “continued without finding” paperwork, stating that his arrest record and the charges filed against would be scheduled to terminate. Chris graduated that spring with a degree in both business and sociology. At our end-of-year retreat, Chris reported:
The Civic Corps gave me quality time outside my own personal bubble of selfishness, focus of school life, work life and the other stresses we face each day as individuals. To help give back to the community and humble myself, while ensuing more drive within me because of the faces of the children I would help, I met different individuals striving for their own path as well. The pursuits we have are to better our future networks, and being in school generates a better education for more than ourselves. Technically if you cannot be selfish for yourself, who will be? A part of being selfish is doing things you enjoy, a major one for me is working with kids. From Chandler Magnet, to Valley View and YMCA, the Civic Corps helped me out a lot. Even with the ever-changing landscape of our minds in the future we wish to have blowing in the wind, it made me really think about getting into the subject field [of working] with kids.
Study #3: Black Male Intelligence
When I began this academic year with an invitation from the [Civic Corps] I was both surprised and pleased. I’d honestly not known of the Center, but I was happy to learn about what they did. Throughout my life, service has always been a big part of who I am. Whether I served as a boy scout or through activities organized by my church, I learned to appreciate how pleasing it was to serve another person…. The support of the Center strengthened my resolve to serve others and afforded me the opportunity to take a step back from my own concerns and help someone else with theirs. In doing so I’ve felt reinvigorated as I’ve continued to pursue my path through academia and as I prepare to become a professional. The Center also gave me the chance to meet inspiring students who share a desire to serve and contribute to their communities. This chance to meet like-minded individuals has likewise helped me to understand how central service is to whom I am.—Andre, Civic Corps member
Andre came to the Center for Civic Engagement hurried, since he was on his way to work, but he had been invited (and wanted) to apply to the Civic Corps. Our team asked about his job, and he told us he worked as a cashier at a local discount store. He was also a biology student with a 3.7 GPA who wanted to go to medical school.
In 1978, 1,410 Black males applied to medical school; by 2014, that number had dropped to 1,337. Likewise, the number of Black male matriculants to medical school showed virtually no change in that 35-year period: In 1978, 542 black males matriculated, and in 2014, the number had fallen slightly to 515. No other minority group experienced declines. The inability to find, engage, and develop candidates for careers in medicine from all members of society limits the ability to improve health care for all (Nivet, 2015).
An Honors student with a 3.7 GPA in a pre-medical track Andre had found support, and his intelligence was engaged. His struggles were not related to academic structure but to building a network that would support his goal to attend medical school. To that end, the university’s civic engagement center had been involved for five years with an opioid recovery program, run by the state’s Department of Public Health. Our work there had focused on financial literacy, access to health care, and “Back on the Books,” a program for reestablishing active tax status for men who had been incarcerated. At the Hector Reyes House, a recovery program run by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Latin American Health Alliance, the WSU Center for Civic Engagement had been active with Dr. Matilda Castiel, commissioner of Health and Human Services for our city. The authors introduced Andre to Dr. Castiel and developed an internship with the city in which Andre (and two other corps members) surveyed men in recovery and made recommendations to the city manager as to how to support successful recovery. (Andre’s report that grew out of that survey was published as part of Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity, Worcester State University, March, 2018). With Dr. Castiel’s direct intervention, Andre transitioned from his job as a cashier to a job as a “scrub” at the emergency room of a university hospital.
Though Black men may find support in the disciplines in exercising and developing their cognitive skills, the ability to advance in a career in the medical field requires access to influential people. The American Association of American Colleges and Universities (2013) found that practices involving direct application of skills are more critical to career success than acquisition of discrete bodies of knowledge. For Black men this skill application is confounded by racial and social factors. For example, Brooms (2017) noted that African-American males might act in ways that do not fit teachers’ or professionals’ preferences for proper etiquette. If they grew up in fragile families and neighborhoods marked by violence, drugs, or economic blight, Black boys and male teens may behave frenetically and respond to frustrations by acting tough and engaging in bravado posturing. These social factors become compounded as teachers and professionals bring stereotyped attitudes into the classroom or workspace, especially if they have had limited experience relating to Black males. Intelligent Black men with the goal of becoming doctors often face challenges different from those faced by Derek and Chris, challenges more deeply rooted in media stereotypes that distort Black male intelligence, challenges involving access to quality higher education, and challenges accessing influential people. As noted by Nivet (2015), this has resulted in declining enrollments of Black males in medical establishments.
The WSU Civic Corps project allowed Andre access to a social network and to a key figure in his chosen field. Andre also had an opportunity to present to city officials and to publish his work. In short, civic engagement allowed Andre to overcome some social and racial factors that have historically limited Black men in medicine and to advance his goals by publishing, by becoming more comfortable with people in power, and by landing a job in his field.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Worcester State University’s Civic Corps project seeks to remediate the challenges and obstacles that can institutionalize persistent failure among ALANA students by implementing the educational tools of civic engagement and service-learning. To build upon the WSU Civic Corps’ minor success, institutions need to provide resources and infrastructure for programs employing civic engagement and service-learning while educating mentors about the complex financial, legal and social forces that obstruct academic success for young Black men. The authors offer further recommendations in the closing paragraphs.
Redirect Existing Resources
WSU spends tens of thousands of dollars each year bringing speakers and promoting programs aimed at educating individuals about issues of social injustice and inequity. Each year, a campaign such as Latin American History Month might compete with the Diversity Lecture Series that might compete with the Provosts’ programs. These programs are often built in accordance with traditional disciplinary hegemony and in some cases compete—and not always in a collegial manner—with other programming. The authors recommend establishing racial equity planning committees that assess how university monies are spent, particularly programs that advance “diversity,” and to redirect some of these funds to scholarships for ALANA students that increase access to the high-impact work of civic engagement and service-learning.
Reinstitute Student Legal Services
The legal troubles facing young Black men are complex and endanger the academic success of many students. Colleges and universities, particularly in urban settings, need to develop access to legal services through which Black male students can receive guidance and support in negotiating what are oftentimes trivial legal matters that can nevertheless derail students’ lives. University networks and local elected officials need to be made aware of and develop means to alleviate tensions between young Black men and the police, and to advocate for these young men in criminal justice systems when these matters process.
Access to Social Networks
Becoming a physician or pursuing a particular specialty may be less attractive to young Black men when they do not see people similar to them in academic classrooms or medical professions. Civic engagement and service-learning are tools for colleges and universities to employ in creating programs that allow Black males to have meaningful interactions and to establish connections with people in positions of power who look like them. This will be aided by hiring practices aimed at increasing diversity among faculty and staff. As stakeholders build out these hiring practices, it will be important to resource civic projects that interface with governmental and community structures, and that gave ALANA student access to people in influential positions.
The authors look forward to continuing our with Civic Corps students, both during their enrollment and after they have graduated. We encourage more research that explores how civic engagement and service-learning can transform campus climates such that ALANA students can feel a greater sense of belonging, flourish, and become critical agents in the transformation of the negative consequences of the nation’s racist history.
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Dr. Mark Wagner live on a small farm in Dudley, MA. His research subjects involve Care Theory, community engaged scholarship, and classroom communication. His published works include The Immediate Field, a Brief History of the Communicative Body (Verlag Spring, 2011), Homebuilding, (Finishing Line Press, 2010), and A Cabin in a Field, (Mellon Poetry Press, 2001). He is Founding Director of The Binienda Center for Civic Engagement at Worcester State University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Katie Cleary is an Assistant Director for Residence Life and Housing at Worcester State University. She has a passion for helping students advocate for themselves and teaching them to become civically-minded, engaged citizens of the world.