Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Caleb Butler's Mailbag Pt. 1

Yesterday, we held the first showing of Caleb Butler's research project “Support and Success of African American Men at a Predominantly White Institution.” Attendees to the exhibit completed note cards with questions for Caleb about his project. Here's part 1 of his responses.

[Related: Caleb Butler's Mailbag Pt. 2]

Based on your research, what advice would you give to white professors?
Be aware of white privilege. Understand that white students, as much as white professors, can create an unfriendly environment in the class - so work to give space for all voices and perspectives to be understood. As strange as this sounds, don’t be afraid to take the side of black men, pointing out institutional racism and some students’ personal prejudice. Make yourself available, and take extra steps to identify and understand the unique experiences of minority groups, particularly African American men.
How do you think your race influenced the interviews?
I’m sure certain areas of conversation would have been more easily accessed if I was a black man, but I think my race helped in a weird way, too. It seemed that the participants wanted to ‘teach’ me because I brought an outside perspective, and I showed that I was honestly interested in listening to their experiences.
Ethics - did you have to do anything special to get permission to air the audio?
I had each participant sign a release consent form for audio/video/digital recording (which was included in the Institutional Review Board approval). They all consented for the audio to be used for educational purposes in the classroom and in presentations. I maintained confidentiality by muting any identifiers, such as the name of the class or names of individuals.

How did you decide on your topic? What made you interested in the topic?
Ah yes, the question that everyone asks. As a white man, I guess it is strange. But I grew up playing basketball and had several close friends on a team in middle school that were black men from the inner city. I volunteered at a youth center in East St. Louis while in high school; before college, I spent a year volunteering at a homeless shelter where many homeless guests were black men - and I began to ask myself why the numbers were so disproportionate. Coming to college, I started studying Sociology and engaging in extensive conversations with certain professors about the experiences of black men at a PWI. In other words: experiences and relationships.
How much of this research caused you to stop and reflect on things that you’ve seen, done, or even thought
All of it! Through this process, I have become immeasurably more aware of my personal white privilege. It isn’t as much about what I have done or thought, but what I haven’t done or thought because that’s how privilege operates.
The students say they learn how to deal with being a black male at a PWI, but what does that “deal with” look like? Does that lead to change? How do they deal?
I’m curious how this questioner defines ‘change.’ I’m assuming the question is either asking if it leads to a change in how they act or if it leads to successfully navigating college and graduating. I think both are true.

Dealing with being a black male at a PWI can be tricky, and it seems that double consciousness is extremely helpful. That is, understanding “one’s self through the eyes of others.” Wade [one of the participants] talked about his process of developing double consciousness, which enables him to navigate as a minority on campus more productively and without feelings of spite. Donald [another participant] spoke with confidence about navigating among white and black circles on campus. Naturally, there are adjustments in navigating either side.
Support and Success of African American Men at a Predominantly White Institution

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