While it’s important to support Black and Latino men throughout the entire student lifecycle, our research team found four moments when that support is especially critical for retention and graduation.
1. The first day on campus
The first day in college is an important day for all students. It’s the day when students get their first impression of college life and start to meet new friends. And if you’re a Black or Latino man, it can set an unwelcoming tone if you look around campus and don’t see anyone else who looks like you. We learned how two institutions help Black and Latino men feel welcome in those first few days:
Lehigh University partners with Mentor Collective to make sure every student has a peer mentor before they even set foot on campus. As soon as a student submits his enrollment deposit, he is asked to fill out a survey where he can indicate that he’d like a peer mentor who is a Black or Latino man like him. Early mentor matching not only helps reduce summer melt, but it also means each student sees at least one familiar face at orientation.
The University of Tennessee – Knoxville’s Success Academy for Black and Latino men brings men to campus together, a few days before classes begin, to get to know their peers. But the program also makes sure students don’t lose those day-one connections: for all four years, men in Success Academy come together for workshops, social events, and career development opportunities.
Parents and family are often the first people students reach out to for help with these early challenges. So, The University of Alabama helps parents and families support their students. Its family affinity groups offer families a virtual community through a combination of Zoom meetings and discussions on CampusESP and Facebook. Black UA, for families of Black students, has over 700 members who use the community to share support resources and build lasting friendships.
Virginia Tech helps Black men find a home away from home by bringing the local barbershop to campus. For many Black men, the barbershop is a safe haven: a cross-generational, all-male space where they go not just for haircuts but also to find community. Virginia Tech’s staff lead campus Barbershop Talks on topics like Black masculinity and mental health that bring in the whole community—students, alumni, staff, and locals too.
of mentees got help from their mentor in deciding on a major
of nonwhite students are looking for a mentor who shares their racial identity
For Black and Latino men, finding a college mentor can be easier said than done. Many are looking for a mentor who shares their racial identity (31% of nonwhite students, according to the same Student Voice survey). And on campuses where students of color outnumber faculty of color, those faculty face an additional burden of uncompensated labor as mentors. We found two ways colleges can help:
The University of Colorado – Boulder reduces the burden on faculty mentors by rethinking mentorship as a group activity, where faculty meet with students for small-group “fireside chats” that follow a weekly syllabus. Staff at CU Boulder also help match mentees with faculty from similar academic and personal backgrounds.
Many institutions, including The University of Texas – Austin, The University of Windsor, and Marquette University expanded the pool of mentors to include peers. For Black and Latino men, many of whom have negative experiences with authority in their K-12 schools, getting help from a peer can sometimes feel even more comfortable than getting help from a faculty or staff mentor. With the right supports in place—like training and curricula—peer mentors can help students navigate changing a major and other challenges in college.
4. Taking the next step after graduation
The last six to 12 months in college are another time of transition, as students finalize their plans for the first year after they graduate. Will the next step be a full-time job, an internship, a volunteer year, or grad school? Black and Latino men face not only these questions, but other ones too: will I encounter discrimination when I apply? And will any of my new peers or coworkers look like me?
The University of Maryland – College Park Black Alumni Network’s members knew firsthand how challenging this can be. They started an alumni mentoring program that pairs a Black alumnus with a current Black student for six weeks to learn about the transition from college to career through mock interviews, job shadows, and/or advice about navigating the working world as a young Black graduate. Many of these alumni-student pairs have stayed friends even after the program ended and continued supporting each other.
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