BrotherHOOD creates sense of community

Men of color in the United States are graduating from college at a much lower percentage than the national average.

The six-year graduation rate for black males at Eastern Michigan University is 18.65 percent compared to 38.16 percent for white males according to EMU IRIM data from 2004 to 2006. This trend has led colleges across the country to install mechanisms on campuses to help students achieve success and graduate.

The office of the provost at EMU has developed a degree completion and retention program that focuses on five areas: student preparedness, enrollment policies, financial aid policies and incentives, advising and student support and curriculum structure and delivery. The plan also features initiatives designed to help students from two key demographics that are experiencing low graduation rates: men of color and single parents.

Currently, the BrotherHOOD Initiative is the only non-student organization on campus that focuses solely on student success and community for men of color at EMU.

“This is something we started in 2011,” said Reggie Barnes, Director of Diversity and Community Involvement at EMU. “We do not have enough mechanisms to make sure those students [men of color] are successful once they get here. The programs have been strengthening their ability to do that. It is a constant state of improvement.”

According to the BrotherHOOD Initiative’s mission statement, they are striving to empower and graduate more first-generation culturally underrepresented male students at EMU. To achieve this, the initiative focuses on five things:

  • Engage students early and help ease their transition to college life at a predominantly white institution.
  • Help them overcome educational barriers by connecting them with valuable academic resources, create opportunities for them to build relationships with faculty outside of the classroom and identify possible financial support mechanisms
  • Encourage a greater sense of brotherhood, camaraderie and support among first-generation and underrepresented males on campus.
  • Create opportunities for students to network and build meaningful relationships with faculty and professional staff outside of the classroom.
  • Address issues of masculinity and sexuality to counteract socialized misogynistic and hyper-masculine attitude and to create an affirming space for gay, bisexual and questioning male students.

The program’s “barbershop” events have turned out to one of the most successful facets of the initiative. These events are aimed at creating a sense of community among men of color on campus and provide them with a support network at EMU.

“[The barbershop] is a way to create a safe environment for men of color and that has been extremely helpful,” Barnes said. “I intentionally did not want the BrotherHOOD Initiative to start off as a cohort program.”

According to Barnes, there has been no formal mentoring from the initiative prior to now because he wanted to reach a larger number of students. The positive feedback from the barbershop events helped the BrotherHOOD Initiative secure a $10,000.00 capacity building grant.

The grant will be used to fund a new mentoring program called BrotherHOOD scholars that will be beginning in the fall. The scholars program will provide success coaches, block courses and tutoring sessions to participants.

Provost Kim Schatzel said the BrotherHOOD Initiative is still in its infancy, but it is her responsibility to make sure the program matures and has longevity. She hopes to help take it from a start-up program to a campus wide initiative, which is why the capacity building grant was so important.

“It’s a terrific initiative. It’s highly innovative and there are risks associated with it,” Schatzel said. “It is very entrepreneurial to be able to it and it has had early successes associated with it and it has made an impact on campus. We need to keep the momentum going, we need to be able to support it and we need to be able to make sure it becomes a permanent part of the fabric of what Eastern is all about and I think it has the potential to be able to do that.”

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