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4 student lifecycle moments when sense of belonging matters most for Black and Latino men

December 8, 2022 , By Alexa Silverman, Senior Director, Student Experience and Well-Being Research

Black and Latino men graduate from college at the lowest rates of any demographic group. In EAB’s conversations with 50+ university leaders, we learned how uniquely challenging it is for Black and Latino men to find a sense of belonging in college. That’s because on campuses that are predominantly white and majority female, it’s harder for Black and Latino men to find peer groups, mentors, role models, and places where they can just be themselves.

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

    The 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.

2. Feeling homesick for the first time

This moment will feel familiar to many readers: it’s midway through your first term, you’re spending all your time studying for midterms, you haven’t really made friends yet, and you miss your family and friends back home. This time can be hard on mental health. Unfortunately, men of color are less likely to access mental health support than white men, and college men are less likely to have a therapist than college women. We heard about two ways universities can support Black and Latino men who are feeling homesick:
  • The University of Alabama

    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.

3. Realizing you might be in the wrong major

At least 30% of students change their major in college. For help with this tough decision, students often look to their mentors: Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse’s Student Voice survey found that 30% of mentees got help from their mentor in deciding on a major.

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.

  • The University of Texas – Austin, The University of Windsor, and Marquette University

    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.

You too can support your own students through these four critical moments in the student lifecycle. Get started with EAB’s resources on Black and Latino men in college.

Alexa Silverman

Alexa Silverman is a Senior Director with EAB, overseeing best practice research studies for academic affairs leaders. Since joining EAB in 2015, her work has touched on the faculty role in student success, improving time to degree, integrating experiential learning into the curriculum, academic resource allocation and instructional capacity, effective academic department and program evaluation, organizational and governance structures for universities, and faculty roles and leadership development.

Before joining the firm, Alexa developed educational programs and research for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a philanthropic organization focused on women’s education and empowerment. Outside of her work with EAB, Alexa serves as a project manager with the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF), overseeing a group of 50+ volunteers on an ongoing data entry project.

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