Success & Resiliency: Preliminary Findings

The objective of this research project was to gain a better understanding of the factors that influence whether children will lead a crimefree life...

Building on Resilience: Dr. John Singer

DR. JOHN N. SINGER, associate professor of Sport Management at Texas A&M University, shared insights from his new book “Race, Sports and Education” for the seventh installment of the MACH III’s Building on Resilience Lecture Series on February 13, 2020.

“I discuss contemporary issues and challenges black male football and basketball athletes face as they successfully navigate what I call the contested terrain that we call college sport, particularly in historically White college and university spaces,” Singer said of his book.

Singer, who is also associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion at TAMU, researches the cultures and practices of elite college sport programs at historically White colleges and universities. His focus is learning more about the impact of these programs on educational experiences, opportunities, and outcomes of Black male athletes.

“Certainly, the athletes that I feature in my book are gifted athletically and in other capacities, but to varying degrees they are gifted academically and in other ways beyond sport and play. These are brilliant people we are talking about here,” Singer said.

“I am a black male who had hoop dreams and learning challenges in elementary school. I remember being one of the few black students pulled out of class in the fourth and fifth grades and taken to math lab and reading lab,” he said. “Looking back on that time and thinking back on my focus on basketball, it makes me realize how far I have come and how I didn’t allow that label to define who I am.”

Singer said his position as a graduate assistant at Michigan State University put him on track to do his current research.

He said, “I took this position and was immediately signed as the case load to black male football and basketball players in that program who were considered at-risk. These students were using this program to transition into the university.”

“It was through this experience I began to ask questions about how the program was structured and set up in a way that didn’t necessarily serve the educational interests of these athletes,” he said. “Being on the staff as a black male, I found some of the literature on the students in general and student athletes in particular spoke to the challenges this student population faces across the P-16 context.

“That really captured my attention and caused me to think about every indicator of success – GPA, graduation rates, placement in special education and gifted programs. The black male was at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of these socially constructive indicators of success,” he said.

Singer wanted to tell a different story.

“Black male athletes are not a monolithic group. You have people from different backgrounds with different learning needs and with different identities that are important to them at different times,” he said, referring to the athletes profiled in his book. “What do you do about the young black male athlete who happens to be a parent?”

Singer emphasizes his book is not all doom and gloom.

“I do think that participation in organized school sport has some educational value if it’s properly leveraged. Black males who participate in college sport are brilliant beings,” he said. “If you can read a playbook for a Division 1 football program, you know some math and you have some genius in you.”

In Chapter 3 of “Race, Sports and Education,” Singer outlines the narratives of several athletes to understand “how they navigated the systems that are undergirded by the elite white male dominance system.”

“I asked them questions about their P-12 schooling and their early sport experiences. I asked them questions about how they define education,” he said. “I looked at the internal-external factors that influenced their education and I also got into the recommendations they had for their educational experiences.”

Singer also draws from Critical Race Theory – a framework that offers a race-conscious approach to understanding educational inequality and structural racism to find solutions that lead to justice - to garner insight into their secondary schooling background, what education means to them, and how racism impacts their holistic development.

The focus group and individual interviews revealed each viewed education as more than classroom learning and obtaining a degree, and perceived racism as alive and well in college sport. Singer said these athletes should be brought into the conversations about them.

“We as scholars can use theories to talk about them, but we need to talk with them. That’s what my book is about – centralizing the voices in the stories of the most important population in this scheme called college sport,” he said.

Framing and Maintaining a Research Agenda

Dr. Fred A. Bonner II, along with Drs. Aretha Marbley and Stella Smith, took the MACH III Center’s Framing and Maintaining A Research Agenda Institute to different venues during the fall semester, including the Houston Galleria on Oct. 31, 2019 for the 26th Annual HBCU Faculty Development Network Conference.

A previous session with students and faculty was held Oct. 24 at Prairie View A&M University with Marbley, who is professor and director of Community Counseling in Counselor Education at Texas Tech University.

Bonner described the 2019 Fall Semester as a blessing for the MACH III Center. PVAMU President Dr. Ruth Simmons has set aside funding through her FIE Initiative for faculty to do research and conduct workshops.

“One of the things we decided to do was use that funding to set up workshops around Framing and Maintaining a Research Agenda. We are looking to move around to all seven HBCUs in the state of Texas and starting there and taking Framing and Maintaining on the road,” he said. “Prairie View is not unique. No institution is unique. All of us struggle around this notion of framing and maintaining a research agenda.

“As we move forward, one of the things I would like for you to do is not only engage with us today, but think about what can we do to bring this message to you, to your faculty to get the word out. Because I’m invested and I am determined to get our HBCUs stronger in the area of research and scholarship and to help as many faculty as I can on our HBCU campuses to establish a research agenda.”

With the objectives of understanding the importance of a research agenda, understanding the publication process, and providing participants with tools to move their research agenda forward, the seminars covered 15 key points.

Participants engaged by giving input and asking questions about how they should go about framing and maintaining their individual research agendas. Of interest to some was seeking a mentor.

“When I’m teaching my leadership class, one of the books I use is Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” She does a really good job of talking about mentoring and how we go about seeking mentors the wrong way,” Bonner told the participants. “You need to bring something to the table because 9.99 times out of 10, people don’t want to mentor you. Not because they don’t like you. They just don’t have time.

“One of things I require my doctoral students to do when they go to conferences is to tell me your elevator speech from the fifth floor to the first floor. Think about the major anchors of who you are and lead into a nice narrative,” he said. “Be succinct and articulate who you are. You need to package up for me who you are by way of your research.”

Marbley explained that different types of mentors are needed, noting that one of her mentors is a Jewish white man.

“Based on our own research we know that students and faculty of color need emotional mentoring and family support,” she said. “And when you are retaining faculty of color, especially at predominantly white institutions, oftentimes they want to be hooked up with folk in the community and at the church. It is all levels at different dimensions.”

Another key point for those seeking to publish articles is to look at their own writing and research.

“Your dissertations can be gold mines. You should be able to get two publications out of your dissertation,” said Bonner, as he made reference to Dr. Donna Y. Ford, a distinguished professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, who was able to get 35 articles out of her dissertation.

Bonner walked the participants through how to get at least five articles.

“Let’s think in terms of breaking your dissertation apart. The grand tour article is number one – your entire dissertation,” Bonner said. “The first thing you need to do before grand tour article you got to do your homework. You need to identify where you want to place that article. There are some journals that are minority/ethnic specific.”

During the PVAMU session, a participant asked about single versus collaborative authors for publications. “Is there more weight and appeal to being the only author on the articles?”

“What we know from our experiences is that there is very little difference between only author and first author in terms of impact,” Marbley said.

Bonner chimed in and said, “Find out what your department says. Ask that question and make them be specific. Is it 75 percent, 60 percent? Should half my articles be single author?”

There is an unwritten policy pertaining to this, according to Marbley.

“Part of the issue is - as for the dissertation- that is your original research. So, no one else can be first author on your original research,” she said.

Building on Resilience: Dr. Terrell Strayhorn

TERRELL STRAYHORN, student advocate and professor of Urban Education at Lemoyne Owen College, brought his message of educational success to Prairie View A&M University on September 26, 2019, for the MACH III’s Building on Resilience series.

“Dr. Strayhorn is the author of over 200 scholarly publications. He is an internationally recognized student success scholar and the foremost authority on issues of equity and diversity,” said Dr. Fred A. Bonner II, executive director of the MACH III Center, who has cowritten a book with Strayhorn. “This is the sixth installation of Building on Resilience, the lecture series. So far, we have had a wealth of impactful speakers.”

Strayhorn’s message of purpose and responsibility focused on the reason students attend college - to get a good job. He spoke on the “interesting set of concepts that will inform what we do in higher education at the administrative, teaching, and learning levels, but even more specifically on the individual level.”

Asking four basic questions, Strayhorn stressed the importance of purpose: Where are you headed, how will you get there, who will go with you (and who won’t), and what will you do when you get there?

Accomplishing success is important because employers want graduates who know how to communicate effectively. “The one story you should be able to tell well is your story. No one should ever make you feel ashamed of your story,” he said.

Strayhorn asks “What’s our goal? Why are we here?” as he describes the college experience as a gathering of likeminded individuals. “Regardless of our physical differences, our minds are alike. The focus on resilience, the focus on education brought us together to reach change.

“Resilience is the ability to respond and recover from setback. It requires a certain mindset,” Strayhorn said. “Regardless of our differences, what brought us here is tonight is that our minds are alike. Whether it is MACH III, the focus on resilience and education.”

Education is designed to enlarge one’s experience. The word education in Latin is “educare” - it means to draw out the light. “Prairie View exists in part to help students draw out the light,” said Strayhorn, who admits he found out things about himself as a student that led him toward a career in education.

“What I learned is that everything I could not do in terms of my height and my size, I could excel academically,” he said. “All of these things taught me that although I could not master athletics, I did have some skills. “When I got older, I started to realize that I had certain skills. I used those skills to find success for myself in my social relationships, in classrooms, with my teachers, and ultimately it charted a path for me to college.”

Strayhorn said he has found - through research, interviews, and surveys - that same scenario is true for many students.

“One of the first things we have to do is affirm that all students can learn, and all students have skills and abilities. Sometimes it’s qualities like resilience that become their real strengths that we don’t detect it because they don’t look like athletic strength or they don’t look like musical strengths,” he said. “They are hard to discern but nonetheless important. Those kinds of things allow you to make certain transitions in life and college is one of those points where students have to make certain transitions.”

For the faculty, staff and administrators – there is a real challenge.

“The moment we admitted these students, we made a commitment to them. The commitment is shown in our mission statement. The commitment is, “We will do all we can to support you to succeed,” Strayhorn said.

“In higher education, quite often, we operate as if we have no commitment to the student after we admit them. In fact, that is the beginning of commitment. It means we will pour all of our resources into making sure that in four years… we’ll get you out of here. That’s not saying it’s our responsibility only, students certainly have a responsibility in this equation, but institutions do as well.”

Strayhorn told the students in attendance, “Be sure by the time you graduate, get 120 credits, you get an education. Don’t just get a degree, get an experience.”

Black and Latinx Male Summit

On August 5-6, 2019, the MACH III Center, along with the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center, hosted area organizations and volunteers at Prairie View A&M University for a Summit on Improving Outcomes of African American and Latinx Males.

The two days of workshops and keynote speakers focused on data that could be used for collaborative long-term solutions for males of color.

Dr. Luis Ponjuan, associate professor at Texas A&M University, said nine out of 10 brown and black boys have not earned a certificate or degree (90 percent of African American males and 88 percent of Latino males). He spoke of an educational system that does not know what to do with this population of students.

“Traditionally, institutions ask if male students of color are ready for college. We must ask if institutions are ready to serve male students of color,” said Ponjuan, who went down a list of visible traits that brown and black male students have stacked against them, including: what they wear, hair styles, teeth, scars, tattoos, language accent and dialect, and possible criminal records.

“Compare that to their invisible traits such as language comprehension, religion, sexual orientation, if they are a father or caregiver, their financial stress, and learning and mental health concerns.

“How are we listening to their needs,” Ponjuan asked those in attendance, including 11 other speakers. “Who drops out? If you had 1,000 men of color enrolled in college for a semester, 600 of them would drop out. We are losing men of color after the first semester. “We can’t have a discussion about degree completion until we have a discussion about semester completion.

“We are looking for data for discussion, not distractions. We will not improve over night and we must embrace a collaborative long-term solution and we must focus on that,” he said.

The first day of the summit focused on learning about various participating programs and community organizations and sharing best practices. The second day consisted of capacity-building trainings on assessment and sustainability.

Speakers from a dozen local organizations shared information about the support they give via mentoring and educational events for male students of color in the Greater Houston area and beyond.

Dr. Fred A. Bonner, executive director of the MACH III Center at PVAMU, who does scholarly research on black male achievement, closed the day with a keynote address. He said society sometimes punishes males of color for their giftedness.

“Some of the most gifted people on the planet are behind bars. In some cases, it was their gifts that got them there,” Bonner said, explaining that some black and brown males take on issues of masculinity in education and will deny their educational brilliance for the sake of appearance.

“It’s called disidentification. Being smart sometimes does not play well on the basketball court,” said Bonner whose research focuses on helping to advance the status of minority populations across P-20 education and workplace contexts.

Ricardo R. Venegas, a transition facilitator at Austin (Texas) Independent School District, said he has worked with this population of males for many years.

“I have seen some of the brightest students in this group (black and Latinx males). The only difference is how they achieve those goals. Some are praised for it and receive accolades, while others are castigated for it,” he said.

During her address, Dr. Camille Gibson, professor and interim dean in PVAMU’s College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology, said, “We know that in schools, based on how systems operate, that some of our youngsters hear the message in so many ways: Academics is not for you, think about something else.”

“If young people in our communities are exposed to violence, gangs, drugs, poor schools and unemployment, which makes other things look more attractive – that is a problem,” she said.

Gibson said peer pressure is a major factor in student success or failure, along with a strong support system.

“Try to deal with boys without having a conversation about girls. It’s not going to work,” Gibson said, inciting laughter from the crowd. “The main reason that males come by my office to say they are leaving school is because they got somebody pregnant and they have to go to work to help support the child.

“We know from research in higher education that a lot of the students who stay and graduate are ones who have family support. If parents aren’t there giving what we know children need, that’s when we come into play – nonprofits, churches, professors, teachers. We try to fill that gap. We need people in our future who believe in giving back, so we need to teach that now. We need to teach them how to open doors, how to serve, show them how to make a difference.”