As a young black male student at Purdue University,Maurice Simon often finds himself on the outside looking in.
“I felt like I was an immigrant at this campus — a total outsider, taking people’s resources and I wasn’t wanted,” said the 22-year-old senior in African-American studies and human services.
Although the feeling of isolation was enough to make Simon want to leave Purdue, a new program has persuaded him to stay.
Retaining and improving the graduation rates of young black men are top goals for theBlack Male Excellence Network, an academic support and leadership development program piloted in March and implemented in September. It is funded by Purdue’sDivision of Diversity and Inclusion and modeled after similar programs instituted by the research epicenter, the Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male atOhio State University.
Although the program was already in the works when President Barack Obama signed a presidential memorandum for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in February, BMEN works in tandem with the national push to prepare minority males for school and for successful entry into the workforce.
The goal is “to champion the academic, personal and professional success of black male students at Purdue,” said Cason Brunt, BMEN coordinator.
“When we look at the retention and graduation rates of black male students across the nation, we see that demographic is significantly at the bottom of the ranks,” said Brunt, who also is assistant director of Student Success, Purdue’s centralized academic support hub.
The one-year retention rate for African-American males was 86 percent compared to 93 percent of the total population of new full-time freshmen who enrolled at Purdue in fall 2013. The six-year graduation rate of African-American males who enrolled in fall 2008 was 64 percent, compared to 74 percent of the total population, according to theOffice of Enrollment Management.
Although many young black males may be high achievers in high school, they often lack the social support or understanding of what it takes to succeed in college, Brunt said.
They may come from low-income backgrounds, feel pressure from being first-generation college students or simply lack experiences, such as fine dining and traveling abroad, which many of their white peers have already lived.
“We have to do a little bit of catching up … to bring students up to speed with experiences that some of the other students may have had,” Brunt said.
Christine Taylor, vice provost for diversity, said there are benefits to having family members who already attended or graduated from college.
First-generation students often lack that guidance and don’t know how to navigate the system of higher education and may miss out on opportunities, such as studying abroad or scholarships.
“You may not get that information, and that can make a difference in your college experience,” she said. “A program like BMEN helps to close that gap,” she said.
She said a similar program, called Mind, Body and Soul, also was launched this fall targeting African-American women.
“For our students, it builds a sense of community, provides a safe place for sharing and learning about the contemporary African-American female experience,” she said. “Similar to BMEN, this program also serves as a retention initiative.”
BMEN’s success will be evaluated on student academic performance and assessments of personal growth.
So far, it has been able to create a brotherhood among participants.
“It’s helped to make the campus a lot smaller,” said Emmanuel Odiase, a 21-year-old junior in movement and sports science. “It helps to make you not feel alone as a black male.”
The African-American population at Purdue is small. Only about 3 percent, or 1,186, of 38,770 students enrolled this fall are black, according to university statistics.
For the first year, all of the 52 black men who were interested in BMEN were able to participate. The admission policy may change as more young men express interest, but the criteria has yet to be established.
The network provides mentors, retreats, leadership seminars, etiquette dinners and academic support.
Some issues addressed include dress, style and image, learning how to deal with subtle discrimination and relationships with authorities, such as police.
James Haynes, a 22 year-old graduate student in structural engineering, said the program was created at exactly the right time, given the tense national climate on racial profiling and police brutality.
“As black males, (we) are doing a lot to cope with what that means exactly and this is an outlet for you to do that,” he said.
For more information, call Cason Brunt at 765-494-9374 or visitpurdue.edu/studentsuccess/academic/campus_partnerships/BMEN.html