Supporting Success

John Reid, left, and Julie Stokes

CSUF programs help black students excel in academics and encourage male enrollment

April 2, 2007

By Valerie Orleans

The number of African American men pursuing a university education is dropping nationwide. And, since African American students make up a smaller percentage of the student body to begin with, focusing on programs to help them — particularly males — becomes critical, Cal State Fullerton administrators agree.

“We pride ourselves on creating a supportive and open environment for all of our students,” said Robert Palmer, vice president of student affairs. “Based on the percentage of African Americans in Orange County, the number of African American students we have on campus is not underrepresented. However, they make up only about 3 percent of our student body. Our goal is to ensure that our African American students feel comfortable and welcome here. We recognize that all students benefit from attending a university where they can meet and study with people who represent different ethnic groups, religions and cultures.”

Since African American females are more likely to attend a university — and graduate — than their male counterparts, many outreach efforts and programs now are being extended to African American males.

“You have to look at this phenomena from a historical perspective, as well as identifying more current problems,” said Julie Stokes, professor of Afro-Ethnic Studies and director of the university’s African American Resource Center. “During times of slavery and until the last few decades, it was the responsibility of men to work. Because mothers believed that daughters required more protection than sons, they would often spend more time socializing the girls. Education was a way to improve their daughters’ standing. Sadly, that perception still permeates much of the culture. Men go to work. Women go to college.”

Besides supporting programs that help African American students succeed, the California State University chancellor and presidents speak at churches throughout the state to encourage African Americans to go to college.

In February, the CSU and 11 churches throughout the Los Angeles area held the second annual “CSU Super Sunday.” CSU presidents, including Cal State Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon, CSU trustees and Chancellor Charles B. Reed addressed multiple congregations during church services.

“Our message regarding what it takes to attend a CSU is getting out to African American families and community organizations,” Reed said. “CSU’s fall 2007 admission application numbers for African-Americans are up 12 percent. However, there is still a lot of work to do. We need to find ways to help more African-American students become eligible for the CSU and, in particular, we need to do more to reach African-American males. This is why we will continue to work with the churches to reach out to this community.”

The decline in male students doesn’t apply only to African Americans. Over the past few decades, females have consistently made up a larger percentage of students on university campuses across the nation. Some attribute this to women entering what were traditionally seen as “men’s fields,” such as the sciences and business. Many universities also are enlarging colleges of teaching, nursing and human services programs that tend to attract larger numbers of females. Still, because African Americans are underrepresented on many campuses, many schools are increasing their efforts to recruit black students.

Many prospective students are dissuaded by the cost of an education and are unaware of how to apply for grants and scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

“In African American families, men often work full-time while attending school,” Stokes said. “If economic pressures begin to mount, school is dropped. They’re not going to quit their jobs because that’s their means of support. School is a lower priority.”

When John Reid, coordinator of the Student Diversity Program, first began work at Cal State Fullerton more than a decade ago, he met with African American students, especially men, and found that many of them were university athletes.

“I find, especially in some African American communities, that young boys are pushed into athletics as a way to escape poverty,” he said. “If a child shows talent, parents will often encourage that athleticism … often at the expense of academics.

“Once those young athletes arrive at Cal State Fullerton, many are often ill-prepared for the rigors of a university education. Of course, they spend a great deal of time on athletics between games, travel and practices,” he said. “But, they don’t understand concepts of time management or how to study effectively.”

That’s when Reid and other faculty members stepped in, creating tutoring and other programs to help athletes become better students … and stay in college.

“We wanted to shift the focus from athletics to academics,” he said. “I often had them apply the same focus they used on their athletic skills to enhance their study habits. If nurtured properly, they did very well. I’ve had students who were flunking their classes get their act together and make the dean’s list a year later.”

However, Reid does understand the pressures the athletes face.
“All their lives, many of them have been primed to play sports,” he said. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with sports, but the simple truth is that most college basketball players aren’t going to make it to the NBA.”
One role model that Reid points to is CSUF President Milton A. Gordon, who played college basketball.

“While I’m sure he was a good player, the way he advanced to his current position as head of the university was by focusing on academics,” Reid said. “It’s great to be a good player and possess athletic abilities, but not at the expense of intellectual development.”

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