Faculty and alumni weighed in on questions about black male student success Tuesday.
An all-black panel of six speakers met in front of students in the Student Center auditorium to discuss black male retention and offer insight to black male students on how to be successful in college. Walter Davis, a specialist in the Center for Academic Success and panel organizer, said the event was intended to help the black community deal with issues it may face on campus because 30 percent of black males who attend college leave without finishing their degrees.
Panel members gave advice and encouragement as they spoke about their personal college experiences. Vincent Boyd, an SIUC alumnus, said his student success came when he reached out to people on campus about how to prepare himself to be an achiever.
“One of my teachers told me I had everything to be successful, but I now had to get out of my own way,” Boyd said. “At that moment, I started listening and stopped thinking I knew everything and started trying to acquire knowledge.”
Renada Greer, director of Student Support Services, also said black faculty played an important role in her success as a student.
“And when I returned to SIU to work, a black faculty member gave me my first job,” Greer said.
Many panel members suggested that the men, and students in general, should surround themselves with positive people who are growing academically as well as personally rather than immediately getting to know the social crowd.
“There will always be someone having a party,” said Beverly Love, an assistant professor of radio-television.
Love also said it’s the people who are focused on what they want to do after graduation who can begin their careers sooner.
“What you have to do is grab what you need to be successful and hang on to it,” said Royce Burnett, an associate professor of accountancy. “For me, it was my fraternity and custodial staff. For you, it may be staff that are here. But whatever it is, grab it and don’t let it go.”
Burnett said there were no black faculty or staff when he was in college, so it was the custodial staff and his fraternity brothers who instilled in him the qualities to become successful. He said he became successful when he surrounded himself with positive people.
“There was no way I was going to have less than a 4.0 grade point average, and we all encouraged each other to do the same because we were all about that mission to become successful,” Burnett said.
Father Joseph Brown, director of the Africana studies department, said his motivation to help students comes from the lack of assistance he received when he attended college.
“I had no black mentors except for my family, so I figured I had to do for others what no one would do for me,” Brown said.
He said the challenges young black males face in college are the same ones older black males faced because racism is still an issue in America.
Derrick Williams, assistant director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, is also the director of the Black Male Initiative, which began this summer. The organization’s focus is to increase SIU’s black male retention and graduation rates. Brown said the Black Male Initiative has two Living Learning Communities — one in University Hall and one in Abbott Hall.
Williams said the organization wants to raise awareness to young black men that they are not alone in their journey, and they should be aware of the resources available to them. However, he said they have to be willing to ask for it.
“All men suffer from masculinity in America. Pride is a detriment for black men because they are too scared to ask for help because they think it’s a weakness,” Williams said. “But showing vulnerability and asking for what you need is how you end up succeeding.”
According to the Black Male Initiative’s proposal to become an organization, the number of African-American male students enrolled at the university has steadily increased since 2006, while the graduation percentage has remained low and has fluctuated from 2006 to 2010.
Melvin Williams, an undeclared graduate student from Chicago, said many black males at SIU don’t have their priorities in order, and adulthood preparation should begin in high school because SIU’s job isn’t to teach responsibility but to fine-tune what students should already know.
“SIUC just has money on their mind, and they’re just going for quantity instead of quality,” Williams said. “Whether students sink or swim, the school still gets paid.”
Justin Graham, a senior from Chicago studying liberal arts, said attending the university is about more than just the degree; it’s about the experience.
“I want to be my own boss one day, and it’s unobtainable without an education, and it’s not just about the degree,” Graham said. “It’s the networking you need as well in order to be sucessful, and SIU can offer that.”
Graham said he was suspended from the university for academic reasons his sophomore year and has worked very hard to get back on the right track. He said he thinks young black men give up too easily if they underperform one semester.
Davis said the responsibility to succeed is on students’ shoulders.
“If you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, then you can’t point the finger at the school and say they failed you,” Davis said. “You failed yourself.”