Author: Brianna Zimmerman
The Intercultural Community Center (ICC) is introducing two new initiatives this month — the Black Male Collective and the Men of Color Program — that aim to provide men of color at Occidental with additional resources and support networks to thrive both on- and off-campus.
“These initiatives are trying to support a target population that has experienced a combination of experiences around exclusion and discrimination that take place in various forms, both subtly and overtly,” Ricardo Parada, programming assistant for the ICC and direct liaison for the programs, said via email.
The organizers of the Black Male Collective aim to engage the community in dialogue about the often-unrecognized stereotypes of black men on campus and in the community, while the Men of Color Program focuses on creating networks for men of color that they can utilize now and after graduation, according to Interim Assistant Dean of Intercultural Affairs Jonathan Grady.
Grady, who has taken an active role in running both projects since he started as interim Assistant Dean of Intercultural Affairs last month, spoke about the need for a community-based organization for men of color.
“While [black males on Occidental’s campus] may be in individual silos, they really wanted an opportunity and a space where they would be able to hear the stories, the narratives, of people and students that looked like themselves,” Grady said.
Oby Okpalanma (senior), a member of the Black Students Association, said that she feels that cultural clubs have been forced to provide much of the support, both socially and academically, in bridging the gap for people of color on campus. These new initiatives, as the administration’s response to many needs for people of color on campus, have great potential to be successful, Okpalanma said.
Students in the Black Male Collective will work throughout the year to create a video documentary highlighting the experiences of black males at Occidental, which will be publicly screened on campus in April. They will document their own experiences and those of faculty, administration, alumni, peers and local community members through interviews and organized events, according to Grady.
The Men of Color Program is an outreach initiative that aims to provide resources for students to help them thrive after they graduate. Students will create their own narratives that counter the stereotype about what it means to be a black male in college as well as find better ways to get academic and social support at Occidental and in the wider community, Grady said.
“The [Men of Color Program] is really rooted in community cultural wealth, [an idea which says] that individually, we have tons of varied experiences in terms of experiences that make us who we are,” Grady said. “We see that in times of adversity, we can then rely on all of our individual experiences and lessons learned to help us grow and move forth.”
Collaborating with faculty and administration, participants will discuss embracing counter narratives at Occidental and concerns about their future after college, Parada said. Students involved will be able to explore non-profit organizations in Eagle Rock or volunteer at Los Angeles-area high schools, but opportunities will ultimately flow from member input. The first semester will culminate in a focus group that will prepare students to work independently second semester in internships or on projects.
According to Grady, the long-term goal for the programs is to help raise retention rates, graduation rates and the general academic performance of men of color at Occidental.
“It was very evident that black males specifically had some of the lowest performance academically in terms of GPA,” Grady said. “[They] really struggled in terms of post-graduation plans, in terms of directly heading to grad school or directly entering the workforce. Compared to other racial groups, black males were struggling the most.”
Will Reeves (senior) commented that he thinks these initiatives must be careful when walking the fine line between creating a sense of empowerment for a minority community and creating more self-segregation on campus for males of color.
The Black Male Collective’s kickoff event Tuesday introduced the year’s theme of “The Empowered Self: Challenging Assumptions of Black Males at Occidental College.” The Men of Color’s theme this year is “Liberation through Counternarratives: Redefining and Advancing Support for Men of Color at Occidental College,” and its kickoff event is Sept. 29.
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