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African-American Male Initiative

New Ohio University OMSAR program aims to keep black men in higher education

With the African-American Male Initiative, OMSAR is aiming to increase the retention rates for black male freshmen through mentoring and alumnus support.

Thirty-nine black male freshmen chose to combat the odds.

These men are joining together to form the first class of the African-American Male Initiative, a new program aimed at raising the retention rate for black male freshmen at Ohio University.

In 2012, there was a 15 percent difference between white and black first-year retention rates. That percentage decreased to only a 1 percent difference in 2013, though Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, associate director of the Multicultural Center, said the disparity grows as the numbers are broken down by sex.

The black male retention rates are lower than the overall total, nationally and on campus, Chunnu-Brayda said.

“It’s not just (Athens). It’s a national need to keep African-American men in college,” Marlene De La Cruz-Guzmán, director of the Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention, said. “There are peer mentors that are assigned, which is super helpful to feel all of that support.”

All of the current members in the initiative are also a part of LINKS, an OU peer-mentoring and scholarship program for multicultural students. They chose to be in the African-American Male Initiative for added support.

De La Cruz-Guzmán said black men leave school for varying reasons including finances, feelings of isolation and the uncertainty of fitting in.

“Students from non-majority populations go into predominantly white institutions and not only have to learn how to be students, but also how to operate in this very different kind of society,” Chris Caldwell, co-chairman for the initiative, said. “It’s even more pronounced when you throw in issues like gender. There’s this isolation aspect.”

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The program aims to combat this feeling of isolation through group meetings and events called “barbershop talks.”

“They are meant to be talks in which an alum who is an African-American male has gone through the experience and talks to them on how they got through successfully,” De La Cruz-Guzmán said. “Success doesn’t mean without your obstacles and you don’t stumble. It means they can see somebody be successful, and they know they can reach out to that person.”

Caldwell, who is also an administrative specialist for African American Studies and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, will run the barbershop talks once a month, each one covering a different topic. September will be about how to get comfortable in getting involved, he said.

“As much fun as homogeneity is, you don’t get it if you’re a student of color at Ohio University,” Caldwell said. “So, we’re telling you how.”

Kaliq Carr, a peer mentor for five black male freshmen, said he is happy to give advice and guidance and that he can relate because he was the only black person in his graduating class.

“I was very eager to meet new people here, but there’s a lot of gray area because it’s to know where all the black people are,” he said. “For some people it’s just a little overwhelming. I think it’s also because people aren’t willing to try.”

Carr said making an effort makes the entire experience a lot better for the transition.

“There’s a constant reminder. Statistics and numbers don’t lie. We’re not supposed to graduate as an African-American man,” Carr said. “So, if we can just find little things everyday to keep us moving forward, we can care about our fellow men and be closer as a community.”


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