Since 2004, I've been teaching an African American literary and cultural studies course comprised of first-year collegiate black men. Before I arrived at the university, the course was taught as a study skills course. When I took on teaching duties, however, I began re-purposing the class to focus on African American literary and cultural studies.
We cover a variety of writers/creators, including Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Thought, Aaron McGruder, and many more. We cover slave narratives, speeches, poems, rap lyrics, comic strips and books, and visual art. And we also have these wide-ranging conversations about what the guys are experiencing as young black men at the university and beyond.
A class just for black men?
As you might expect, some people express concerns about a class that's comprised of only black men. "Who's being left out?" "What about black women?" "Isn't that reverse segregation?" "Is a course just for black men sexist?" "The university allows that?" I've heard these questions multiple times over the last 19 years.
One of the reasons the course/program was created in the first place was because of the troubling retention and graduation rates of black men students in particular. As a group, they were struggling with classes, grades, and a host of other issues more than any other demographic.
Anyway, I let folks know that they're letting me do it for now.
So far, there aren't any major protests to the course. I think that's in part because the guys aren't receiving any extra resources or major university support, like the students in the mostly white Honors program. Also, though there are some advantages for first-year students having a Distinguished Research Professor of Literature, few people pay attention or even count that as a major advantage, so there's not much said.
Thinking with collegiate black men
You know, it's funny but relatively few people ask what it's like working with the students in the class. If folks did ask, I'd talk about how exciting and fulfilling it is overall engaging in conversations with these guys. It's really something hearing their thoughts on music, movies, literary compositions, visual art, comic books, and various other things.
It's cool too because long after guys have taken the class, they find me on campus and follow-up on discussions we had their first year. Our conversations just keep going.
So the processes of thinking, sometimes over an extended period of time, with these guys stand out about the experience.