Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Case for Early Support for Black Collegiate Women

Literature scholar Joycelyn Moody from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Earleen Patterson, director of a program for under-represented students here at SIUE, have, in a large way, convinced me and supported my efforts to provide support to students as early as possible in their undergraduate careers. For now, I wanted to focus on some of the processes of supporting young black women, a demographic that is routinely overlooked for a number of reasons.

Here on the ground, Patterson has been key for getting me to think up ways of assisting the lil sisters. When I first arrived at SIUE, she invited, or more accurately, insisted that I co-teach and then later teach a first-year orientation course and program for black men college students. After the success with the young men and because of the pressing need to reach out to young black women as well, Patterson recruited me to teach a course for first-year black women as well. Now, after about 5 or 6 years teaching the course, I have a better sense of how young women benefit, in multiple ways, from active networks of support and from early exposure to African American literature.    

My work with a few of the young people here at SIUE took new turns when Joycelyn Moody founded a summer graduate school preparation program known as the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute (AALCI) that provides learning opportunities in black studies, broadly defined, for rising seniors from across the country. Moody asked me to teach classes for the AALCI, and she also asked me to suggest potential participants. I realized that students who had participated in Patterson's program would be ideal candidates.

Moody's program requires participants to have active academic mentors, and it just so happens that I first start working with students from Patterson's program on a summer reading project in July prior to the start of their first college classes in late August. Thus, by the time students are juniors and thinking about summer programs like Moody's, I have established a long record of working them. Programs like Moody's AALCI have now socialized me to start encouraging first-semester college students, like the young black women I work with, to put considerable thought into their plans for the summer before their senior year. That is, I start talking to them about their senior year and beyond in detail during their first few months of college. 

Associate and full literature professors are less likely to teach composition courses and thus have infrequent contact with students until late or later in students' college careers. I was fortunate to meet and collaborate with Patterson and Moody when I did because it really shaped my outlook on the value of early support for black collegiate women, among others. It's to the point now where if I had the means and resources, I would even reach out to college students long before they envisioned themselves as college students.

Related: A Notebook on Collegiate Students

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