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>>[APPLAUSE]>>Good evening, and thank you so much for
joining us. If you go back to 1919, 100 years ago, the
presence of African Americans in higher education was negligible. Essentially, historians have the number somewhere
between 6,000 and 8,000 African-American students enrolled in all of higher education. [00:00:23]
Most of those students were being educated at historically black colleges and universities. And so the number who would have been at a
University of Maryland, a predominately white campus, would have been pretty much non-existent. But if you fast forward to today, we have
an awful lot to be proud of. [00:00:38]
The Department of Education has the enrollment number at 2.5 million African-American students
enrolled in higher education. That is a tremendous number relative to where
we’ve been in the last 100 years. And in fact, those students are at all types
of colleges and universities in the country. Not only historically black colleges and predominantly
white, publics, private, two-year, etc. [00:01:01]
And the access that we’ve had to higher education, has meant that not only have individuals benefited,
but so have communities and so has our nation in advancing the kind of intellectual human
capital that has benefited us all. You can see it everywhere in our society,
in every industry and every area, including at the highest levels of leadership of the
nation and the world, as we offered and had a first black president. [00:01:26]
So for sure, there’s a lot to be excited about and a lot to celebrate. But even with all those advancements, what
I wanna suggest to you this evening is that we still have a long way to go, and this is
best exhibited in a recent report that was published by the American Council on Education. [00:01:43]
Actually just this year, in the fall of 2019, which they looked at the status of race and
ethnicity in higher education. And in that report, while there’s lots of
progress that was identified, it summarized the essence of black higher education thusly. Take a moment and look at this. [00:02:02]
Too many Black students fare poorly in America’s postsecondary education system, at both the
undergraduate and the graduate level. The advances of Black students enrollment
and attainment had been accompanied by some of the lowest persistence rates, the highest
undergraduate dropout rates, highest borrowing rates, and the largest debt burdens of any
group. [00:02:26]
For the first time, we actually, as an African American community, were the only group that
is on the margins in all of those areas. So while we have made tremendous progress
and we have a lot to celebrate, not only in our college’s 100 year and in the nation’s
progress, there is a lot of work for us to do. [00:02:48]
My own work has focused on examining the experiences of African-American students in higher education
for two and a half decades. And I have particularly taken aim at understanding
the work of high achieving African-American students, and let me tell you why. So much of the narrative and research on black
students was from a deficit approach. [00:03:07]
Basically assuming that these students were academically not as talented, could not make
it in the academy. And so part of what I wanted to do on my own
work is to really even out the bookends and the narrative of intellectual inquiry to say,
we are talking about a group of students who are entering the academy with high board scores. [00:03:26]
Having come from very competitive academic programs, who might be second and even third-generation
college educated. Now, we know that’s not the story for all
students, but we’ve heard so much of the other end that I was very interested in positioning
this group of students to say, we’re bringing in very capable students, but what’s happening
with them in the process of being in our educational systems? [00:03:46]
Let me share with you four quick things that have emerged out of my work. One is that faculty matters significantly
in the success of students. Teachers, faculty matter significantly. And here’s why. Because my work is centered on African-American
students in STEM fields, non-traditional fields, oftentimes, for African Americans. [00:04:06]
And in the STEM field, the role of the professor, particularly in engaging with a young scientist
is in helping him or her to understand the acquisition of skills that are actually skills
that you need to do science research. And so that work with a professor matters,
and the ability of a professor to fortify relationships and help that student make those
connections. [00:04:26]
And what we know in our scholarship is that those relationships aren’t always easy to
develop. And, in fact, African-American students in
STEM fields struggle with finding faculty who really are investing in their education. But when they do it and they do it well, it
matters. And it’s also important in STEM fields that
we diversify the professoriate so that students have a range of faculty that they’re working
with. [00:04:48]
But having said that, because it takes a while to get a diverse faculty, you don’t have to
be the same racial background and even the same gender, or any other factor to affirm
a student and to work well with a student. You have to care about their education and
understand that you’re preparing them for our society. [00:05:04]
Number two, a theme that shows up very strong in our work is the academic proving process. Everybody in this room has had to prove their
capability. Whatever your areas are, students, faculty,
staff, parents, board of regents. Everyone in this room understands the notion
of proving oneself. But what I’ve heard consistently in the students
that we’ve studied is that they have to continually repeat this proving process, even once they’ve
already demonstrated that they have the capacity to do the work. [00:05:31]
And that that takes away from the kinda intellectual energy they could be using towards advancing
themself. They’re taking that kind of energy and redirecting
it. Trying to prove that, yes, I still belong
in the program, I still belong in the major. So that academic proving process wears down
the capability of students. [00:05:49]
Number three is our campus climate. This has been said several times this evening,
but we’re in a larger context in which things have shifted in ways that there’s a resurgence
of energy around kind of divide and hate, and our campuses are feeling some of that. And it isn’t so much that it’s pervasive in
every part of our campus, surprisingly, it shows up still even in the classroom, from
peer-to-peer interactions, as well as the overall engagement. [00:06:16]
So we have to take that seriously. We have to be thoughtful about that and understand
that our students are coming to a campus where we are all a part of making that a productive
environment for them to work at and to hit the best part of their experiences academically. [00:06:30]
And then the last theme that I wanna share with you is the notion that our black students
are much more diverse than we ever think about them being. We tend to think about black students in a
very monolithic way, and a lot of the high-achieving students I’ve studied in STEM fields are identified
in various ways, in their sense of being black. [00:06:47]
Black American, African, Caribbean, afro bi-racial. And even the ways in which their gender identity,
their sexuality intersects, they’re challenging us more in ways that are differently than
perhaps we’ve been used to seeing. And all four of these things become critical
as well as many others in understanding, as we move forward, how we’re successful in working
with this group of students. [00:07:11]
There’s been tremendous progress, there’s been tremendous ways in which we have definitely,
as a society and as a college, advanced the needs of our students. And I think we have a lot, again, to be proud
of. I want to leave you with something that I
think reflects in many ways the ways in which I think we have to start thinking about our
work in the next 100 years of our students. [00:07:29]
And it comes from nature, and it comes from a very simple thing that we all experience
every day. If you’ve ever heard a bird singing, It’s
not singing because it has an answer for you. It’s singing because it has a song for you. And what we have to understand is our students
have their own songs. [00:07:46]
And sometimes when we’re in the classroom, we’re only looking at what they answer, but
not what they’re capable of in their song. So I encourage you, as we’re doing the work
that we do, not only as faculty as peers with each other, but also as educators and as parents,
what’s the song that our students are bringing to us? [00:08:01]
Thank you so much.>>[APPLAUSE]