This week’s lecture focused on Chapter 2 of Student Engagement in Higher Education and specifically engaging students of color. As a student of a visible ethnic minority, I can relate to this week’s discussion. The chapter advocates on placing the responsibility of engagement on educators to shift their current pedagogical practices to match the needs of students of color (Harper & Quaye, 2015). This is extremely important as students of color face additional challenges in higher education. Harper & Quaye (2015) mention these students face a profound sense of loneliness and a need to prove their intellectual abilities. When I was a student doing my diplomas in business and marketing in the 1990s, I did not perceive any racial tensions at either of the two institutions I had attended during that period of time. The research mentioned in chapter two discusses that students of color in this situation are more likely to succeed. I agree with this research, as I was able to experience this first hand. I was fortunate living in a multicultural city such as Vancouver, Canada that I was not subject to any racial stereotypes or threats. There was a sizable East Indian (students with Indian heritage) student population, so there was always a built-in network if needed. We also had a few same-ethnicity faculty that we were able to speak to if we had issues, and they would relate to us very well. I would agree with Smith’s (1989) assertion that faculty of color have an influence on student’s success.
Chapter two also discusses that the literature shows the low rates of participation in campus activities among students of color. As student services professionals, we need to engage these students and discuss what their specific needs are, and what types of activities they would be interested in participating in. This is the shift that we need to make: one of shifting from the institution to a more student-centered approach. As we proceed through the various constituencies in this course, there will be some common themes that are brought forward. The one common institutional response needs to be an ongoing discussion with the various constituencies, perhaps through surveys, or a qualitative approach on how they define engagement, and what would like to see in campus activities. In reading through this week’s materials, I can see the challenge of engaging Black students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). One of the points made in this chapter is the importance of providing students of color or ethnic minorities a “safe place”. This is an important support function that allows students of color a place they can go to express their cultural beliefs, and share those beliefs with other students of color. Depending on the demographics of an institution’s enrollment, there could be safe spaces provided for Black, Latino, Asian, and/or Native American students.
The next concept that was a key learning point for me was that of campus racial culture. This culture plays an important role on inclusivity of students of color. A negative or hostile racial climate will make a student of color’s campus experience a negative one. This could lead to disengaged students who are not wanting to participate in campus activities, and may potentially look to go leave their institutions altogether. I find this concept very interesting, as we do not have this type of issue at our local colleges and universities. In reading through the literature provided, it is evident the challenges students of color would face in a hostile racial climate.
Sedlacek (1999) wrote a strong article that includes a description of a model that identifies seven non-cognitive variables that are critical to minority students. I read these seven variables as ones that a student coming from a strong support network, strong experiential background, and strong critical thinking skills would have. Although in principle I do agree with this model, the major drawback is that many students who are entering higher education, especially at a young age, may have only a few of these non-cognitive variables. The one variable I feel is the most important is that of a strong support person. All students of color need that “rock” that provides sound advice, encouragement, and mentorship. If students are having difficulty finding this person on campus, they may need to look elsewhere, perhaps a family member.
The final key learning point for me is the concept of the perfect storm. The report from ETS outlined three forces that were creating this storm, and the scariest to me is that of a disparity in literacy and numeracy skills among our school-age and adult populations. This week’s YouTube video on US Education outlined that over half of the countries’ population, which is over 100,000,000 million people aged 16-65, do not have the necessary literacy and mathematical skills do perform their jobs. The interviewee mentioned this will only get worse over the next ten to fifteen years. I am in agreement with the interviewee that we need to go back to the basics. We need to focus on preparing and supporting students, particularly Latino and Black students who were mentioned to be dropping out of high school at an alarming 50% or higher rate. We also need to get families involved and educate everyone on the potential pathways students can take, as well as ensuring those pathways are open to these students. Students need to be provided encouragement through their K-12 education, as these students will form the basis of our society and workforce going forward.
This week’s photo is a skyline shot of the beautiful city I live in, Vancouver, Canada.