Thursday, April 17, 2014

Caleb Butler's Mailbag Pt. 2

On April 15 and 16, we coordinated a presentation of Caleb Butler's mixed media exhibit “Support and Success of African American Men at a Predominantly White Institution,” which was based on his research. Attendees completed note cards with questions for Caleb about his project. Here's part 2 of his responses.

[Related: Caleb Butler's Mailbag Pt. 1]

Why do you think the black men students feel the way they do at a PWI? By the way, What was interesting to me about the exhibit was that this is exactly how I feel at times. I feel isolated in all white classes.
This may be the best question I’ve received. Why do they feel isolated, like they are in a ‘fish bowl’ in the classroom, for example? I’m not a social psychologist, but from the interviews I would say that several students discussed the pressure of navigating expectations from both black and white students. The perceived expectations from some white students and professors were extremely negative and assumed a lack of intelligence or lack of desire to perform well in school. The perceived expectations from black students was pressure to fit in and be ‘black,’ whatever that means.
That’s the best I can do with that one. I’m really thankful that you connected with the participants’ responses, but now we need to look more seriously into this question of ‘why’…

How do you think having more professors like the black male professor they had would influence students’ experiences in college?
There are pages of quotes I would like to share in response to this question. Several students said that [Dr. Webber] was their first - and only - black male professor or teacher. That’s a problem in itself. But all students spoke highly of [Dr. Webber] in that first-year program, and most spoke of a unique relationship with him that has continued throughout their college career. If relationship with one professor who shares your race and gender - and, therefore, can understand your experiences in nuanced ways that others cannot - is such a benefit, imagine the benefit of half a dozen black male professors who also commit to knowing their students.

In what ways are you going to try to inform more people about your research project and your findings?
Dr. Rambsy and I are in conversation about reaching out to the administration at our university. There is a plethora of ideas we hope to offer for improving the support of African American men (and women) at PWI’s. More than that, we simply wish to make the experiences of the least retained demographic known and accessible to the administration, who - intentionally or unintentionally - may not have any first-hand accounts of these students’ experiences.
Do you think that white men/women should have these groups to feel more comfortable as well?
Not really, especially since the school is a predominantly white institution (and maybe should be referred to as a historically white institution). The school’s culture and leaders are, and have been historically, predominantly white. The argument for this research is that black men, in particular, may be the ‘hardest hit’ at such schools and, therefore, would benefit most from a supportive program designed specifically for them.

I acknowledge that everyone enters college with different levels of college preparation, but if the university must prioritize funding for specific programs, this research argues that programs for black men (and women) should be the priority at a PWI.
Did he [the researcher] ever think programs like these baby or possibly hinder the development of students?
I do not personally, but a few students suggested feeling like they were being watched a little too carefully their freshman year. These few students felt like they may have succeeded just as well without the class.So, baby? Maybe. Hinder? Not at all. There was nothing detrimental to the program whatsoever. The program allows for incredible opportunities within and outside the classroom. Based on all 24 interviews, I think even the top student coming in freshman year would benefit greatly from such a class.
Support and Success of African American Men at a Predominantly White Institution

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