Mark S. Nelson, Oklahoma State University
Locksley Knibbs, Florida Gulf Coast University
Quentin R. Alexander, George Mason University
Darryl C. Cherry, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Bill Johnson, University of North Carolina Greensboro
Joshua “JJ” Johnson, University of Central Florida
Editor’s Note: To hear more on this topic from this team, plan to join them on October 21, 2020 for a Webinar.
As the Fall 2020 semester begins, a call to serve incoming Black male students is warranted. Advisors and administrators can work together to improve the overall experience for Black male students beginning postsecondary education. The purpose of this essay is to present a charge for advising Black male students. We, the authors, are Black men that come from diverse backgrounds. We experience microaggressions, subtle and overt racism, and prejudgment as we face our own Black male intersectionality in our professional and personal lives. Our aim is to begin the dialogue for improving and strengthening the Black male student academic advising experience, particularly at predominately White institutions.
Academic advising can be an intimidating process for all students but specifically for young Black males in a college environment. This can be attributed to the fact that they do not see individuals who represent intersections of race, gender, and identity. They become isolated fearful, and often avoid visiting spaces for an advising appointment when they feel those spaces are unwelcoming. This is coupled with the fact that they are being advised by professional advisors who sometimes cannot understand or empathize with their lived experiences as Black males.
In light of the current crises, amidst the Black Lives Matter movements, Black males matriculating into colleges this upcoming fall semester will be burdened with lots of “baggage to unpack” in the form of psychological stress, racism, stereotypes, bigotry, xenophobia, and the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campuses where they will become more conspicuous as the minority on campuses across the United States.
The realistic effects of “working twice as hard to get half as far” in dealing with racism, microaggressions (Wu, 2010), white privilege (Myers, 2012), racial battle fatigue (Franklin, 2016; Smith, Hung, & Franklin, 2011), and John Henryism (James, 1994) lead to the deterioration of mental, physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual health (McGee & Stovall, 2015). These conditions make the college experience challenging (Harper, 2012). Black male students will encounter feelings of imposter syndrome, finding and adapting to a sense of belonging, in addition to struggles with how to navigate and engage in spaces that are perceived as unwelcoming (Cuyjet, 2006; Harper & Wood, 2016; Strayhorn, 2012).
To mitigate these issues, advisors should be in touch with and know about these Black males who may also be first time college students. Black male students will be judged on the burdens of low-expectations from their K-12 teachers which follow them into college (Bonner & Rolanda, 2006). Occasionally, they find themselves overwhelmed during the first year with the rigorous coursework and to an extent are bothered by feeling unprepared to meet their professors’ expectations based on such preconceived notions. Advisors can play significant roles by adjusting the way they advise and making Black males feel more welcome when they visit their offices. Here are a few tips to assist creating a more welcoming space for Black males.
Work to build a positive relationship with Black male students by establishing rapport with them. Advisors should learn developmental theory (Aydin, et al., 2018), and critical theories (Schuh, Jones, & Torres, 2017), especially theories on racial and male gender identity development. Keep equity in mind: this means taking the needs of the racial and ethnic individual (e.g., Black, Native American) into consideration instead of thinking of the student as a member of an entire group (e.g., people of color, underrepresent minorities). Since advising is viewed as a relationship building experience, it would be paramount to build a relationship and establish connections with these students on an individual basis.
Be intentional, empathetic, strategic, and patient when providing guidance, development, and support for Black male students to help them develop a healthy work/school/life balance. While considered dependents regarding their financial aid status, some Black males may lack the support of their families and are often more self-reliant—particularly in light of systemic inequities that impact employment, wages, and health. While attending college, Black males might feel a sense of obligation to provide financial support to their families, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. Thus, many may work more hours than their non-low-income counterparts to pay for their education and to provide family financial support. Institutions could be proactive in mitigating financial, time-management, and stress-related variables for Black male students by providing on-campus employment such as work study, internship, and paid research opportunities to support their development, financial obligations, and retention. On-campus employment opportunities could help Black male students manage their schedules more efficiently by decreasing the amount of time they might spend traveling to and from off-campus job sites, and then back to campus for school-related obligations.
Purposefully engage in conversations on thoughts and feelings about the traumatic events that have occurred and continue to occur regarding racial discrimination and police brutality against Black men in society. Critical dialogue is important for understanding. Advisors’ feelings are imperative for discussions and understanding. Developing progressive measures that can be used in tandem with offices and units across campus can lead to enlightenment. Therefore, it would be advisable to encourage engaging discussions with peers and supervisors. This will help in understanding issues encountered by Black male students.
Actively participate in professional development centered on cultural competence and awareness. These should be respectful environments to ask questions for clarity and understanding. Failure to learn and practice developmental theory will lead to stereotyping Black males (Colgan, 2017; Thomas & Chickering, 1984). Push those preconceived notions aside and see Black males as equal and deserving.
Remind Black males to not feel compelled to explain or teach about race, racial discrimination, and/or police brutality against Black men to their White counterparts. This can often leave Black male students distressed. The responsibility falls on the individual to educate themselves but with the guidance of others, not the Black male student.
Aim to become a co-conspirator willing and ready for action rather than just becoming an ally by only showing empathy to their plight.
- Learn the differences between “co-conspirator” and “ally” (Move to End Violence, 2016).
- Active listening and knowing the issue are key but committing to action is far more reassuring and meaningful (Love, 2019).
- Show emotional support and encouragement by demonstrating to Black males that they are not just another statistic in the many students you advise.
- Do not make assumptions or perpetuate stereotypes of Black male students based on the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Use mentorship as a method of showing that you care about the Black male student.
- Direct Black male students to campus resources such as counselling and psychological services, academic tutoring, and culturally relevant student organizations to enhance their leadership abilities that help them to become more engaged in the collegiate experience.
Understand the stigma associated with mental health in the Black community. Black males arriving to campus should be aware of the signs of depression that often result from experiences with traumatic events. Because depression often looks different in men, both advisors and Black males should watch for these symptoms and seek assistance immediately from a mental health professional if they are present and persistent:
- Anger, irritability, and aggressiveness
- Feeling restless, anxious, or on edge
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
- Feeling sad, empty, flat, or hopeless
- Problems with sexual desire and performance
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family or self, or other important activities
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- A need for alcohol or drugs to cope
- Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated (National Institute of Mental Health, 2020)
Encourage Black males to join affinity groups with other Black males that meet regularly to discuss issues of racial discrimination and other experiences on campus. This provides a space where they can collaborate on and give each other advice about ways to address these issues.
Be conscious that Black males may experience re-traumatization of past experiences of racial discrimination because of the latest racialized events in our country. This re-trauma may be due to experiences on campus (e.g., marginalization in the classroom, social issues, etc.). Be aware of visceral feelings (e.g., stomach aches, anger, irritability) when in certain spaces or engagement with certain persons. If the student experiences such re-trauma, help them find someone to speak with and process their feelings. Remind the student not to internalize these feelings as they could lead to feelings of depression.
Apprise Black males that power lies in completing their education. Protesting is needed. Service and work within the community are powerful tools for seeking social justice. Extracurricular activities are also important. However, completing the aspired degree creates a greater platform for Black males to seek justice, transformation, and prosperity within the Black community and beyond.
- Charge the student to do and be his best.
- Use tact and sensitivity in delivering difficult news.
- Assist the student in creating achievable academic goals.
- Vest the student to persevere using anger and disappointment as fuel to complete their degree.
- Celebrate their accomplishments.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, educational class (first-generation, etc.), sexuality, religion, or country of origin, Black males will be viewed as Black. Remember, not all Black males identify as African American. Black is a racial term assigned to people with a darker skin complexion who may or may not have genetic roots to the African continent (Kalunta-Crumpton, 2020). Regardless, Black is still beautiful. Black origins transcend beyond the United States but also to Caribbean nations like Dominica, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, Barbados, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico (just to name a few). Blacks also originate from other North American, South American, and African nations, the Middle East, the Far East, Australia, and Europe. We originate from all over the world, speak different languages, and present a vast multitude of skills, passions, and loves while being blessed with melanin through our skin. As academic advisors, let’s become co-conspirators that guide Black male students to become contributors to not only their communities but all over the world!
Mark S. Nelson
Sr. Academic Advisor I
University College Advising
Oklahoma State University
Locksley Knibbs, Ed.D.
Lead Academic Advisor for Team Natural Sciences
Colllege of Arts and Sciences
Florida Gulf Coast University
Quentin R. Alexander, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Advising
George Mason University
Darryl C. Cherry
Coordinator of Student Retention
Student Opportunities for Academic Results (SOAR)
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Student Success Navigator - Life Planning and Personal Development
Advising and Personal Development Center
School of Health and Health Sciences
University of North Carolina Greensboro|
Joshua “JJ” Johnson
Student Resource Specialist II
Veterans Academic Resource Center
University of Central Florida
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Cite this article using APA style as: Nelson, M.S., Knibbs, L., Alexander, Q.R., Cherry, D.C., Johnson, B., Johnson, J. (2020, September). Advising black male students in 2020 and beyond. Academic Advising Today, 43(3). [insert url here]