I first met one of the students in my Malcolm X course some years ago when she was a student at a high school in East St. Louis where I was doing volunteer work. She was a sophomore in high school when I met her, and she's a sophomore in college now. I feel honored to have been in her academic life this long.
The past couple of weekends, I've been watching the NCAA men's basketball tournament. At moments in the broadcasts, you'll hear the commentators discussing how college coaches and their recruiting assistants had started making contact with talented and potential college players when the guys were in the 8th and 9th grade. College basketball is such a big business with all the accompanying competition (ah yes, and corruption) that the guys are recruited as early as possible.
What, I wondered, would it mean to start thinking about non-basketball playing black students so seriously and early? Those conversations do take place for children from middle-class and wealthy backgrounds, as their parents have the financial means to make sure the idea of attending an elite university is a distinct possibility. But I suspect that athletic recruiters are the only ones who have the interests and extensive budgets to reach out to children from struggling communities.
My own university and other small or less popular colleges can hardly compete with elite and large universities. Still, I wonder about those many wonderful potential students who are not on the radars of so-called leading universities, and I'm trying to envision what it would mean to reach out to those students early in their academic lives. Actually, I'm really less interested in them coming to my university than I am in making them aware that colleges like mine would feel honored to have them.
More importantly, if professors and universities developed ongoing conversations with middle schools and high schools about students early on, it might shift and expand their views and expectations of education.
• A Notebook on Collegiate Students