Terrance J. McClain, Texas State University-San Marcos
Editor's Note: Congratulations to Terrance for winning Best of Region 7 accolades for his presentation on this topic at the 2015 Region 7 Conference in Baton Rouge, LA.
As an academic advisor, I find great reward in serving my students. I never realized that I would have such an impact on my students, specifically my African American male students. Race, ethnicity, and culture are powerful variables that influence the way that people behave, think, perceive, and define events (Sue & Sue, 2013). Several cases have been noted about African American males’ “encounter with racism, racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and low expectations from professors and others that undermine their academic outcomes, sense of belonging, and willingness to seek help and utilize campus resources” (Harper, 2013, p. 3). Academic Advising for African Americans can be complex and requires specific skills and knowledge from the advisor (Helm, Sedlacek, & Prieto, 1998) in order to establish a more safe and welcoming environment that fosters a humanizing, holistic, and proactive approach. It is good to be aware of the challenges that many African American males encounter so that advisors can become partners in that student’s success. In addition, it is important to note that while group identities are useful when advising, it is just as important to consider individual identities.
Background Information for an Average African American Male
As practitioners, advisors directly influence the personal, institutional, and societal success of their students. Therefore, it is the advisor’s duty to ensure their own cultural awareness. As part of this awareness, it is important to remember that these are issues that many African-American men may encounter, however this does not reign true for every African American male. It is imperative to remain sensitive to the relative nature of these suggestions. As an advisor moves forward, it is good to begin with understanding background information on what this student may have encountered pre-postsecondary education.
History provides evidence of attacks towards African American males by associating criminal behavior as an inherent characteristic. These attacks begin as early as childhood, specifically around the fourth grade when an African American male for the first time notices a lack of positive peer group visibility, disproportional encouragement towards athletics, and experiences feelings of marginalization (Kunjufu, 2012). Throughout the life of the average African American male, he may experience high levels of worry about a range of concerns including but not limited to (a) being wrongfully arrested, (b) being a victim of violent crime, (c) being unfairly treated by the police, and (d) being a victim of racial discrimination (The Opportunity Agenda, 2011). The compilation of negative stereotypes and the reinforcement that media provides leaves this student with feelings of marginalization. In addition, this student may appear disengaged or reserved in an academic appointment as a result of years of oppressive acts in his life. This disengagement can directly affect the advising relationship by weakening rapport with this student as well as creating a barrier for the student to actively participate in the advising session by asking questions, providing input, and making decision about their upcoming course schedule. Being aware of outside factors that affect many black males before they enter our advising office will create a meaningful understanding of this student and provide motivation to seek methods of performance to serve this him through advising.
Methods of Performance for Academic Advisors
As an advisor we should seek to provide humanistic, holistic, and proactive approaches when advising students. While these three approaches are applicable to all students, provided are three methods that can assist in achieving an advising session that incorporates humanistic, holistic, and proactive approaches when working with African American males.
- Enforcement as Performance. In a study conducted by Anthony L. Brown (2009), he pointed out several methods of performance for educators that address the needs of African American male students. The first method was “enforcement as performance.” The “enforcement style” enforces clearly defined expectations in the classroom. This type of “performance style” relates to the idea that educators must set higher expectations for African American students. When educators stereotype students and place lower expectations on them, those educators lower their commitment to the success of the student (Casserly, Lewis, Simon, Uzzell, Palacios, & Council of the Great City, 2012). As a result, the student will have lower expectations for himself, and therefore, exhibit passive and disengaged behavior. This method is extremely important when advisors are helping these students choose majors and/or particular class schedules. If we are not careful, any stereotypes/prejudice that we may have about this student can influence our advising practice when aiding with major selection such as recommending a major that could be viewed as “less difficult” due to the students racial identity, socioeconomic status, and upbringing. It is a good practice to detach personal values from the advising appointment and establish the clear expectations for the student while encouraging them in their success with comments such as “You can do it!” As academic advisors, we must also be careful with the things that we say when interacting with students because it can easily trigger a student and cause them to be passive and disengaged.
- Playfulness as Performance. Another method of learning that was incorporated was “playfulness as performance.” Educators that used this method of instructing possessed a carefree approach and used laughter and playfulness to engage their students in different topics and conversations (Brown, 2009, p. 428). This style of learning assumes that many African American males need space to laugh, joke, and vent. Engaging in different conversations and topics from sports to popular culture allows one to create a space that is both welcoming and safe for African American male students. Incorporating “playfulness as performance” will allow an advisor to have both an approachable and humanistic advising style because this method allows students to “cathartically release tension and share aspects about themselves that other teachers silence and/or censor” (Brown, 2009, p. 428). In an advising appointment, an advisor could use the casual conversations with students to make relevant connections to different academic tasks. These connections can also encourage students to make deliberate and critical discourse and debate about their academic career. The “playfulness as performance” method is an effort towards breaking down barriers. In addition, learning how to pronounce the advisee’s name demonstrates that the advisor cares about and is committed to the success of the student. A name is a person’s identity and pronouncing it correctly will aid in breaking down barriers.
- Negotiating as Performance. The final method of learning that was demonstrated in this study was “negotiating as performance.” Negotiating by the instructors was a method used to learn how to create expectations that students will reasonably follow (Brown, 2009, p. 430). When an educator works with an African American male, they must understand that this “is an act of negotiating different personalities, learning styles and personal circumstances.” This reminds educators that there is no room for stereotyping and that there are no clear-cut and defined methods of approaching every African American male. The “negotiating” strategy will help advisors to regularly provide discussion, counsel, and questioning as a method of developing solutions and sorting through different context (i.e. self-doubt, personal dilemmas) to reassure a student’s ability to achieve an academic task. This method is crucial because it provides advisors with the opportunity to have a holistic and proactive approach with the advisee. Understanding both nonacademic and academic challenges that the advisee has will aid the advisor in making referrals and providing the student with the proper accommodations. This goes hand-in-hand with being proactive by helping the advisee connect with the institution. For example, if we notice that the advisee is having a hard time with adjustment, it might be worthwhile to refer him to different resources or student organizations on campus that support black men or even connecting him with a faculty/staff on campus that could assist with mentoring.
So what now? How do I move forward now that I have this information? The most important task that any advisor can do is to actively educate themselves and to remain aware of their individual biases and how they affect the advising relationship. An advisor must be aware that cultural differences do exist and to not be apprehensive of a student’s cultural differences. If the advisee is experiencing difficulties, ask why. Do not automatically attribute the difficulties to upbringing, low income, or environment. Last, remember to help the advisee to overcome barriers. Do not be an extremist by “carrying” the student through college. However, be sure to address aspects of the advisee’s educational experience that may be detrimental. While many of these strategies could apply to any subgroup of student, they are strategies that work well when advising African American males from a collective group perspective.
When incorporating humanizing, holistic, and proactive approaches while advising African American males, combining Brown’s three methods of performance can prove profitable. While these are valuable insights to establishing a more effective helping relationship, advisors should also be aware that these might not be applicable for every African American male student due to their individual/personal experiences. Although the student may identify or appear to fit into the perceived group of an African American male, the person has unique experiences that may not align with the information provided. For examples of programs that focus on African American males, advisors can find schools such as The Ohio State University (Bell National Resource Center) and the University of Arkansas Little Rock (African American Male Initiative) that are successful.
Terrance J. McClain, M. Ed
Academic Advisor I
Texas State University-San Marcos
References and Resources
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Cite this article using APA style as: McClain, T.J. (2015, September). Advising african american males. Academic Advising Today, 38(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]