President Gregory J. Vincent ’83 recently published an article addressing racial justice in the spring 2017 issue of The Sphinx, the official journal of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and second oldest continuously published black journal in the United States. Vincent is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha and national chair of the fraternity’s Commission on Racial Justice.
The piece suggests mentoring as a means of intervention to enhance programs and academic achievement for young African Americans, while outlining baseline data on demographics, education and incarceration rates. The article, “Alpha Racial Justice Commission Brief,” appears on pages 42-43 of The Sphinx.
“With a history of supporting racial justice and social change that spans more than a century, the fraternity has supplied voice and vision to the struggle of African Americans and people of color around the world since its inception,” Vincent writes.
A national expert on civil rights, social justice and campus culture, Vincent previously served at The University of Texas at Austin as Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement, W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community College Leadership and Professor of Law. His extensive career is distinguished by his commitment to equity and justice, both in education and in the wider public arena.
Vincent also is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (The Boulé) where he serves as the Grand Sire Archon-Elect (President-Elect).
The full text of Vincent’s article in The Sphinx is as follows:
Alpha Racial Justice Commission Brief
Considering African-American Population Executive Summary
Given the dedicated history of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity to address issues affecting African Americans and people of color around the world, this policy brief, commissioned by the Racial Justice Committee, analyzes population, education, and incarceration rates of African Americans. With a history of supporting racial justice and social change that spans more than a century, the fraternity has supplied voice and vision to the struggle of African Americans and people of color around the world since its inception. Mentoring is provided as an interventional method to address educational and correctional trends facing African-American youth. Through a national approach to the data, the purpose of this report is to give Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity some baseline data that can be useful going forward to enhance programs geared towards educational achievements of our youth.
African Americans have endured arduous experiences within U.S. history of de jure and de facto segregation, which created separate and unequal schools for successive generations of African American students (Vasquez Heilig, Reddick, Hamilton & Dietz, 2011) and led to the proverbial school to prison pipeline (Cole & Vasquez Heilig, 2011). A legacy of severely under-resourced schools and over-representation in prison populations remains despite the active struggle of African Americans for civil rights via litigation, state and federal legislation, and local activism throughout the 20th century (Walker, 1996). Although conditions have improved, continued isolation in inner cities and rural localities has resulted in unrelenting segregation and inequitable provision of vital educational resources (Noguera, 2008). In the modern era, African-American children continue to be undereducated in the U.S., as educational attainment in the U.S. tracks closely with residential segregation, family wealth or poverty, and the historical unequal funding of schools by race and ethnicity (Orfield & Ashkinaze, 1991). Therefore, the efforts of African Americans to obtain a high-quality education for their children in a structurally discriminatory system and to avoid the justice system have been uneven at best (Anderson, 1988).
The impact of lower quality educational experiences is dire as African American students obtain lower levels of educational attainment nationwide. A 2016 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study reported alarming trends for African-American students: a national dropout rate of 7.4% and a higher education graduation rate of 73%. Indeed, access to higher level courses is often scarce within U.S. public schools educating predominantly black and Hispanic students. This significantly impacts student success and higher education attainment.
Nationally, the 2013 six-year graduation rate for whites at four-year public institutions was 60.7%; for blacks, 40.3%. Although both figures were an increase from 2003, black students’ six-year graduation rate improved by only 2.1 percentage points, while white students’ six-year graduation rates improved by 5.3 percentage points.
As instructive and as helpful as six-year graduation rates can be, they do not tell the entire stories for specific types of institution—in particular, minority-serving institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Since HBCUs serve a significant population of African-American students, it is important to contextualize their contribution to student success and attainment. As a result, experts argue for the development of a performance index for evaluating HBCU efficacy, an investment in data collection and tracking, and duplicating successful retention programs.
Another aspect affecting higher education success is psychological and behavioral characteristics arising from the school-to-prison pipeline. As a result, exclusionary practices that disproportionately target students of color, particularly black students, are associated with the school-to-prison pipeline trajectory. This “push-out” of children from schools strongly correlates with higher drop-out rates and increased involvement with juvenile court and the correction system (Leone et al, 2003). Unfortunately, black youth are overrepresented at every stage of contact with the juvenile justice system. Suspension rates for African-American boys (20 percent) and girls (11 percent) were more than double their representation in the school population (Toldson & Lewis, 2012). Additionally, in six U.S. states, black youth are over 10 times more likely to be committed in the justice system than their white counterparts—Utah, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island (The Sentencing Project, 2016).
Although black populations are overrepresented within the justice system, there is an underrepresentation of black populations within specialty courts ( e.g., drug courts and mental health courts) that are geared toward diverting individuals from the criminal focused system to a more rehabilitative system (Costello et al, 2014; Marlowe, 2013; Sarteschi, Vaughn, & Kim, 2011). In addition, the increased exposure to violence within communities and schools is a significant contributor to mental health symptomatology than can impact multiple facets of one’s functioning (e.g., emotion regulation, concentration, memory, motivation, etc.). When exposure to violence is cumulated over time and engagement with treatment or services are minimal (health disparities), the development of chronic mental health conditions may exacerbate pre-existing challenges. Approximately 60-75 percent of youth involved in the juvenile justice meet criteria for at least one mental health disorder (Gottesman & Scharz, 2011; Teplin, 2012), with many showing symptoms of affective-based disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder). Thus, despite the overrepresentation of Black youth within the juvenile justice system, there is underrepresentation of Black youth receiving treatment (National Mental Health Association, 2004).
Considering the plethora of issues facing black youth in the U.S. correctional and education systems, the brief then turns to a conceptual framework to undergird mentoring interventions. To assist the youth experiencing deleterious educational outcomes, we proffer that Alphas adopt strategies that provide young people with alternate pathways to accrue social and cultural capital that can enhance what they bring from their home environment. A central intervention that can prove valuable in this effort is engagement in mentoring. Two key theoretical concepts concerning mentoring—social exchange, and mentoring networks—are introduced to better serve as a foundation moving forward with mentoring initiatives. As has been seen nationally through President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper and complementary programs, mentoring is an important conduit to reach African-American youth and provide them protective factors for future success. Relationships developed through mentorship programs provide students the external and internal resources to enhance their educational experience.
Individual Alpha chapters could consider mentoring models that are most appropriate according to interest and level of commitment. To this end, we have fashioned a typology of mentoring models that can be employed at the individual, regional, and local Alpha chapters. The typology consists of five different models: (a) traditional mentoring programs, (b) curricular resources delivered via the World Wide Web, (c) curricular resources delivered in print, (d) large-scale rallies and courses, and (e) social media and networks. Once completed, our brief will provide detailed, in depth models and examples of programs that exemplify each approach.
Even this cursory survey of data on African Americans and their educational outcomes provides a picture of the modern separate and unequal experiences as they exist currently and continuously.
Solutions to the oft-exclaimed crisis in urban education have been and are currently being sought. We proffer that mentoring programs, either large-scale or one-on-one dyads (or some permutation of these forms), are a way that Alpha Phi Alpha might address these inequities. The models profiled in the report are approaches that have garnered media attention – the evaluative data on many mentoring programs tends to be thin – but these programs have been transparent about their structures and their outcomes. Along these lines, we would recommend employing an assessment and evaluation system concurrent with any intervention that the fraternity engages in to provide data for members.
In conclusion, the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity has led the African-American community for over a century; it is our hope that this report contributes to continued leadership in the 21st century.