Yesterday, I attended the White House Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans at Loyola Marymount University. It was a very fruitful conversation with amazing presentations and panel discussions. Ethan Smith, Verbum Dei class of 2007, was one of the panelists.
At the end of the summit, David Johns, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, challenged the group to answer the following questions: what did I learn, what will I share, and what will I do as a result of being present at the summit?
As I thought about these questions, I reflected upon the dissertation I completed at the end of my doctoral studies at LMU titled Dreams Deferred: A Critical Narrative Analysis of
African American Males In Pursuit of Higher Education. I think that it is important to note that when I was working on my paper, my participants consisted of a relatively small group of students, so I knew that I would not be able to generalize my findings. I felt reassured at the Summit when I heard how the panelists’ description of their experiences in college mirrored those of my study participants. So when David Johns asked what I learned, I was pleased to know that my work was not in vain. Many of these students have common experiences and that need to be shared, which was the second part of his question. When asked what I will do as a result, it was confirmed for me that I needed to continue to dedicate my time to fighting for equity, access, and continued support for these students.
The following passage is an excerpt from epilogue to my dissertation. It is my hope that I can continue this work to affect change.
Conducting this study has afforded me the opportunity to put a voice to the college dropout numbers that land on my desk. Through these powerful narratives, I am able to now better understand the hardships that working class African American male students encounter in their efforts to remain on the college campus. In turn, their stories allow me to better prepare the students with whom I currently work, who soon are approaching that next step—transition to college. I designed and implemented our first transition workshop – a day long workshop where senior students were exposed to a variety of topics that would ensure a successful freshman year, including identifying and locating academic resources, involvement, networking, and money management, as well as social topics like drugs and alcohol, consent, and living away from home. Additionally, I have made it a part of my job to regularly reach out to alumni in order to remind them that we are still with them; that we are cheering for them; that we are here for them, even after they have graduated. When they leave the campus, they have not left our hearts. Moreover, I want them to remember that they still carry the values of St. Peter Claver and that we continue to expect them to be true to their own greatness, just as if they were still ours. Because, in fact, they are.