(Note update at end of story):
Researchers at The University of Akron are taking a close look at the racial climate of the university and how it relates to the retention rates of African-American male students.
Lead investigator Dr. John Queener says previous research suggested that the racial climate was mainly positive, but more black male students were leaving the university than staying. A lot more. Queener says that particular retention rate was only 1.4 in 2006. It goes against most findings, which indicate that positive racial climate should go hand-in-hand with a higher retention rate. Queener says the follow-up research involved his team taking with more than 80 African-American male students to find out what was not coming through on surveys in the 2006 research.
Queener says many of the students said that personal responsibility is a large part of the problem - they need to show up for classes, complete assignments and develop their own relationships with instructors.
While he did not refer to the racial climate as being negative, Queener says various other themes emerged to help measure it.
"For instance, students talked about being in a classroom and faculty only paying attention to them when a "black" issue came up and other than that, they were ignored," said Queener. "Another person talks about being in the honors program, then being asked by a faculty member if he was in the wrong place."
Queener says black representation is another issue.
"What the males in the focus groups talked about was the importance of seeing other black males on campus, said Queener. "One person talked about how they could go across campus and see a hundred people before they run into another black male."
Queener says establishment of black male "learning communities," which create teams of students who take classes, receive tutoring and usually live together has been very promising. In fact, those learning communities have higher grade point averages than any other learning community on the campus.
Queener recommends that the university hire more black faculty members, as well as showing more diversity among university leadership. He also thinks the Office of Multlicultural Development needs to be organized differently so students can take better advantage of the available services. Queener says the university made a mistake by splitting the office into two divisions. He says students would be better served if the academic and student engagement components were merged back together - the way they used to be - to better serve students. Queener says he has been urging that reversal for several months.
Editor's note: The last paragraph of this story was edited to better reflect Queener's thoughts on the Office of Multicultural Development. According to Queener, the lack of additional explanation could suggest that he supports the current office arrangement - he does not.