Adriana M. Chavez
LAS CRUCES – An alarm has been sounding for the last 20 years, but finally someone is listening.
According to a recently published article in the Journal of Postsecondary Student Success by Patrick Turner, associate provost for student success at New Mexico State University, 62 percent of men of color begin their journey in higher education at a two-year institution, only 25 percent Graduated with a degree or certificate within three years.
Historically, men of color have not fared well in higher education compared to women or white men, and that has sparked Turner’s interest in not only researching the experiences of men of color at colleges and universities, but finding solutions to the challenges they face.
Two and a half years ago, Turner helped found the Men of Color initiative at NMSU. The initiative is not just for men of color – everyone regardless of color and gender identification is welcome to participate.
But the idea for the initiative was the result of finding ways to help men of color succeed in higher education.
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“In 2014, then-President Barack Obama started the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which elevated the issue to the presidential level and people started paying attention on a national level,” Turner said. “There’s many reasons why we can say that people have not paid attention to the issue before, and oftentimes when institutions look at it, it seems like such a large undertaking we don’t know where to start.”
NMSU alumnus Efren Miranda got involved in the initiative as a student through a personal invitation from Turner.
“As I heard about it, I couldn’t help thinking about the need for institutional initiatives and efforts that bring males together and that offer academic and social opportunities for engagement,” said Miranda, who is originally from Nicaragua. “From my first interactions with the group, I learned it was indeed a platform to build community on campus, share our thoughts and experiences, and learn from other members. As an international student, this was gold to me.”
Among the obstacles men of color face in higher education are imposter syndrome, which occurs when people doubt their abilities, and the male gender role conflict, which among men of color sometimes mean feeling like they have to work harder than their white counterparts while also being strong and vigilant.
“That creates a toxic relationship where we don’t want to show emotions, or the only emotions we’re comfortable with showing is anger and frustration,” Turner said. “Behavior is always on the forefront of men of color because they’re trying to balance being a person of color living in a white-dominant society. Suppressing our abilities causes us not to be able to fully realize our potential.”
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The Men of Color initiative at NMSU was created to support students by hosting weekly study groups, social events and other activities where participants learn from each other and provide assistance not just academically, but emotionally. The initiative also helps students with engaging with faculty so that they don’t feel ashamed to ask for help if they’re struggling in class.
“Engaging with the group got me connected to other international students and students from other cultural backgrounds,” Miranda said. “The group helped me to not feel isolated and to build a small community on campus. It has also shaped my college experience in a more integral way, by combining both academics and social engagement into one single platform. It has shown me that my voice and experience matter and that there are those around me who are willing and eager to hear from me.”
Turner said initiatives like Men of Color are especially important in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last two years, more than a million students did not return to college, with about 71 percent of those students being men.
“They may be stressed out because of family responsibilities, mental health issues, or they’re slipping academically because they’re trying to balance school and work,” Turner said.
Because of the Men of Color initiative and other equity, diversity and inclusion efforts at NMSU, the university has been invited to participate in an equity roundtable discussion hosted by the University of Texas at Arlington. The roundtables will bring together a diverse group of university leaders, adult students of color, transfer students, current students from marginalized populations and alumni to engage in candid conversations about systemic barriers that contribute to inequitable outcomes, and strategies to overcome such obstacles for all students , particularly those from marginalized populations.
Men of Color will also participate in this year’s Juneteenth celebration, which is hosted by the NMSU Black Student Association in collaboration with ASNMSU, Black Programs and the American Indian Program. This year’s celebration will take place at 6 pm June 17 at the Corbett outdoor stage. The event may also be viewed via Zoom at https://nmsu.zoom.us/j/96176715712, passcode NMSUBSA.
To read Turner’s article in the Journal of Postsecondary Student Success, visit https://journals.flvc.org/jpss/article/view/129046.
Adriana M. Chávez writes for New Mexico State University Marketing and Communications and can be reached at 575-646-1957 or by email at email@example.com.