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Cornelius Gilbert, Chair, Advising Administration Commission

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By now, many have probably heard, and may have even forgotten, about the protest San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated at the beginning of the 2016 NFL preseason.  Kaepernick stood up to the injustices experienced by marginalized groups in American society by deciding to take a seat during the singing of the American National Anthem. Kaepernick has continued the protest well into the regular 2016 NFL season, and along the way has garnered support from fellow NFL players. Now, one may quickly wonder, what does Kaepernick’s protest have to do with academic advising?

To answer this query, let’s first consider the fact that Kaepernick had solidified his identity as a professional football player by helping to take the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.  However, Kaepernick seems to have recently formulated his identity as a man in America.  His racial sensibilities seem to not only have been acutely awakened, but he has embraced and expressed more of his African American racial identity.  Simply consider the fact that Kapernick has had his photo taken via the media with a baseball styled cap with an “X” on the front, no doubt an ode to the slain Black Freedom movement champion, Malcolm X.  Malcolm X is significant because he is the archetype of taking delight in being Black, Black racial strength, and Black self-determination (Van Deburg, 1993).  In addition to the ball cap, Kaepernick has had his photo taken with him sporting an afro hairstyle, which is a dramatic departure from his low to the scalp, even-keeled hair cut that he used to wear.

As we explore how Kaepernick’s demonstrations impact academic advising, it is important to keep in mind that perhaps Kaepernick has experienced what a number of 20-somethings encounter: identity development.  Maybe as a student-athlete growing up and at the University of Neva-Reno, Kaepernick’s racial identity did not develop as a result of his athletic duties and responsibilities.  Consequently, a delay may have occurred in his identity development.  William E. Cross Jr.’s (1971) racial identity model provides a possible framework to explain.

Cross, in the early 1970s, captured the transformation Black Americans were experiencing as they were forging their own distinct racial identity as a result of a social movement that began in the summer of 1966. Cross outlined five distinct stages that a Black person would go through as they developed their Black racial identity.  The stages are as follows:

  • Stage One: Pre-encounter.  In this stage, the individual has not developed a distinct racial consciousness that is self-determinate and self-empowering.  Cross acknowledged that individuals are therefore beholden to the status quo in terms of racial identity.  In the case of Kaepernick, according to a 2010 New York Times article, his adopted mother stated, “We've always been really open about the adoption, and we were always very open about the skin colors.  We pointed it out as a positive, and he saw his difference and was comfortable with it” (Himmelsbach, 2010).  Although Kaepernick was aware of difference, he was seemingly content.
  • Stage Two: Encounter.  Here an individual encounters a situation where their viewpoints regarding race become not only shaken, but altered.  Of this, Cross (1971) wrote, “[t]he encounter is a verbal or visual event, rather than an ‘in-depth’ intellectual experience.”  Cross continued by stating that the “[e]ncounter entails two steps: first, experiencing the encounter, and; second, beginning to reinterpret the world as a consequence of the encounter (p. 17).  In the case of Kaepernick, he seems to have taken notice of societal ills, or perhaps he or a love one had an encounter that the public is not unaware of which awoke him to demonstrate against America’s societal ills.
  • Stage Three: Immersion-Emersion.  In this third stage, an individual immerses themselves into their racial culture, or more specifically, their Blackness (Cross, 1971, p. 18).  A disconnect, or a riff, occurs from that of the European mainstream and the values the individual now embraces about their race.  Cross (1971) wrote that “[d]uring the immersion-emersion stage, the individual develops an idealistic, superhuman level of expectancy toward practically anything ‘Black’ (p. 21).  Within this stage an individual develops a powerful sense about their race by taking delight in their race and racial identity and therefore surrounds themselves with racially relevant trophies and artifacts that represent their racial culture.  Perhaps this stage can explain why Kaepernick changed his appearance and wore a Malcolm X baseball cap.
  • Stage Four:  Internalization.  In this stage, individuals “became more secure in their identity and more receptive to concrete plans to improve the [B]lack community through group effort” (Van Deburg 1992, p. 54).  Kaepernick is calling for change to occur not necessarily in one community, but seemingly for America to make change: “I'm going to stand with the people that are being oppressed” Kaepernick said. “To me this is something that has to change and when there's significant change, . . . I’ll stand” (Dubin, 2016, para. 6).
  • Stage Five: Internalization-Commitment.  Cross (1971) wrote that the person in this stage “is actively trying to change his community” (p. 23).  Kaepernick is taking action beyond that of the Black community by standing up to injustice by sitting down, an act through which all can witness his demonstration to make America better.

Cross’s (1971) original racial identity development from over 40 years ago remains relevant today, particularly for Black collegians attending predominantly white colleges and universities.  The nexus that exists between Cross’ racial identity model and Colin Kaepernick’s protest is germane to today’s college students.  While Kaepernick is not between the traditional college ages, his current age of 28 is actually in alignment with those who are coming to and currently attending America’s institutions of higher education.  Bell (2012), for instance, informs us that “the reality is that the traditional 18–22 year-old student is now the minority in higher education. . . . Thirty-eight percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and 25 percent are over the age of 30” (para. 5).  Kaepernick has applicability appeal to current college students, particularly for young Black men, because he was a traditionally aged student during his collegiate football career and because of his current age and profession.

So what can advisors learn from Kaepernick’s protest?  Seemingly that he is developing his identity, which many college students do during time on campus. Moreover, Kaepernick can serve as a guide toward gaining an understanding of racial identity development.  To assist with that understanding, Cross provided a framework which advisors can use, especially when they work with African American students on predominantly white campuses.

Given that an overwhelming majority of academic advisors do not resemble African Americans, and even for those advisors who may resemble Black students, knowing about racial identity development is quintessentially important not only for academic advisors, but for all stakeholders of higher education.  Consider that “[r]etention and graduation rates of racial and ethnic minority students continue to be a major concern for higher education researchers, policy makers, and practitioners” (Museus & Ravello, 2010, p. 47), especially with “two thirds of all Black men who enter higher education leav[ing] before completing their degree—the highest attrition rate among all races and both sexes” (Museus & Ravello, 2010, p. 6).  Higher education needs to be concerned with the fact that most student personnel workers, and faculty members, do not resemble minority students because to further assist in student achievement, all students can benefit from diversity.  Particularly minority students because they will, not only see, but also experience perceived educational authority figures, which in turn, can be inspiration and motivation to achieve.

Academic advisors would be wise to do as Colin Kaepernick did and to take a stand by sitting down, exercising their unique and influential position to be a positive change agent in the lives of their students.

Cornelius Gilbert, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Adult and Higher Education
Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education
College of Education
Northern Illinois University
cgilbert@niu.edu

References

Bell, S. (2012, March 8). Nontraditional students are the new majority | From the Bell tower. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/03/opinion/nontraditional-students-are-the-new-majority-from-the-bell-tower/#_

Biography.com Editors. (2016). Colin Kaepernick biography.  Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/colin-kaepernick-21132801#synopsis

Cross, W. E. (1971). The Negro-to-Black conversion experience: Towards a psychology of Black liberation. Black World, 20, 13-27.

Dubin, J. (2016, August 28). Colin Kaepernick: I'll keep sitting for anthem until meaningful change occurs. Retrieved from http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/colin-kaepernick-ill-keep-sitting-for-anthem-until-meaningful-change-occurs/

Himmelsbach, A. (2010, August 28). Not a household name, not even in Nevada. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/sports/ncaafootball/29kaepernick.html?_r=0

Museus, S. D., & Ravello, J. N. (2010). Characteristics of academic advising that contribute to racial and ethnic minority student success at predominantly white institutions. NACADA Journal, 30(1), 47–58.

Strayhorn, T. L. (2013). What role does grit play in the academic success of black male collegians at predominantly white institutions? Journal of African American Studies, 17(3), 6–15.

Van Deburg, W. L. (1992). New day in Babylon: The Black power movement and American culture, 1965 – 1975. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cite this article using APA style as: Gilbert, C. (2016, December). Standing up by sitting down: A teachable moment for academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

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