UW News

April 29, 2016

New UW program aims to create ‘brotherhood’ for male students of color

News and Information

Joe Lott, a UW associate professor of education, is spearheading the university's new Brotherhood Initiative

Joe Lott, a UW associate professor of education, is spearheading the university’s new Brotherhood Initiative

For some young men of color, college might seem a world away.

To an African-American boy growing up in poverty, a Latino son of migrant farmworkers or a young Native American man living on a remote reservation, the path to post-secondary education can be hard to visualize. And once on campus, the reality can be daunting. Role models might be lacking, the sense of isolation overwhelming.

A new University of Washington pilot program aims to address those obstacles and boost enrollment, retention and graduation rates among young males of color. The Brotherhood Initiative, to launch this fall, includes a yearlong freshman course focused on introducing students to research and providing guidance in areas like choosing a major and financial literacy.

Additionally, a Men of Color Academy is planned to provide mentoring and activities intended to keep students engaged from their first year through graduation, such as study abroad opportunities and professional development.

“What we’re trying to do is help create a tighter community, particularly among males of color, to increase their presence on campus, to make them feel like they belong and to let them know that the UW is part of their community,” said Joe Lott, a UW associate professor of education who is spearheading the initiative.

The project is being shaped by research. For the past six months, Lott and a team of doctoral and postdoctoral students have been interviewing male UW students and faculty members of color about their experiences on campus and what they think the program should include. They’re reviewing existing UW programs that target students of color, poring over educational research and looking at similar initiatives nationally.

Ismael Fajardo, a postdoctoral research associate in the College of Education, is part of the team working on the project.

Ismael Fajardo, a postdoctoral research associate in the College of Education, is part of the team working on the project.

The team has been meeting for the past year with an advisory committee of academic advisers, project directors, student affair professionals, and faculty members from various cultural groups to discuss findings and shape the program accordingly. Trying to serve a diverse population of students is a challenge, Lott acknowledged.

“There are many different sets of experiences that students have to deal with before coming to college,” he said. “One thing I want to be clear about is not jumping to the solution before really defining the problem.”

One well-defined issue is the persistent graduation gap between minority male students and other groups at colleges and universities nationwide, despite overall graduation rates rising. And though the UW’s graduation rates for males of color are higher than at some universities, they remain stubbornly stagnant and lag behind graduation rates for women of color.

The graduation rate for black men enrolling at the UW between 2006 and 2009 was 67 percent, compared with 77 percent for black women. American Indian and Hawaiian and Pacific Islander male students in the same years lagged behind their female counterparts by 7 percentage points, at 64 and 66 percent, respectively. Latinos had a graduation rate of 76 percent, slightly lower than Latinas’ 78 percent.

By comparison, graduation rates were 83 percent for white males and 85 percent for Asian American males during the same period.

But numbers don’t always tell the whole story, said Chanira Reang Sperry, assistant director of the PhD program at the UW School of Social Work. While the six-year graduation rate for Southeast Asian males enrolling at the UW seems high, at 84 percent, the group comprises a diverse population of students from various countries and ethnicities whose graduation rates vary.

“Without disaggregating the data, the needs of certain Southeast Asian populations can be masked,” Sperry said. “The Brotherhood Initiative will play a significant role in supporting Southeast Asian males.”

And attracting minority students to the UW in the first place remains a challenge, said Emile Pitre, senior advisor to the vice president in the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity.

“These groups are called ‘underrepresented’ for a reason,” said Pitre. “When you compare the percentage of those groups that are college-age versus those who are enrolled here, the percentages are low. We want to increase access for them.”

The UW is working to address disparities through other efforts — most notably, the Race & Equity initiative President Ana Mari Cauce launched in April 2015. The project aims to tackle institutional bias and racism by actively encouraging dialogues and solutions across campus and through community engagement.

The Brotherhood Initiative is intended to meet one of the six goals of the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge that President Obama launched in 2014. The effort encourages communities to implement strategies to improve outcomes for young people, including the goal of all young people completing a post-secondary education.

Lott, who like Pitre grew up in Louisiana, attended Talladega College, a historically black college in Alabama. He started at the UW in 2007 and was struck by the dearth of black people in the area and on campus. The father of two boys aged 3 and 5, Lott began thinking about his own experiences as a black man, about his role as an educator.

“I started thinking, how can I provide a sort of road map through life and through the education system?” 

The Brotherhood Initiative is a partnership between the UW College of Education, Division of Student Life, Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

The initiative is expected to enroll its first group of students in fall 2016. Lott hopes those young men will not only succeed academically, but also serve as ambassadors and role models who can help build an academic pipeline from their home communities to the UW.

“I want them to be civically and socially conscious, and to feel the need to reach back and help other black and brown males understand what it takes to get to college and succeed in college,” Lott said.

“I want to let them know the UW is a place for them. The brotherhood could be their home.”