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Group explores black male dropout rate

Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010

The enticing tomato smell of warm meatballs pulled several people into the Multicultural Resource Center last Wednesday night, but the snacks and sodas were only a bonus meant to lure people into the monthly Rites of Passage educational workshop hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The series of workshops began last September and are the product of two years of black student focus groups and surveys undertaken by Multicultural Affairs. The office was hoping to determine why the dropout rate of black males at UNCG is over 50 percent, yet retention rates remain high. Black male students, a population of 600 at UNCG, are often attending UNCG for several semesters and then simply falling away. Rites of Passage meets once a month at the Multicultural Resource Center in the EUC and addresses modern issues black male students face.

Jeffrey Coleman, assistant director for Multicultural Affairs, has shaped each discussion topic from the data his office has collected with the program aimed at helping students graduate.

“We surveyed students over at Campus Rec, while they were playing basketball, because we were trying to reach the students that weren’t really involved, that you don’t see around here in leadership positions,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what these factors are (that are) inhibiting them from graduating, why they are coming back year after year and just not finishing.”

Each month Rites of Passage discusses a new topic. The first workshop last September focused simply on masculinity, encouraging male students to examine the everyday factors influencing how they as men interact with the people around them. Last Wednesday night the topic was sexually transmitted diseases and their prevention.

Each workshop also offers a new opportunity for students to volunteer in the community connected to that month’s topic of discussion. This month students were asked to volunteer at the Higher Ground Day Center serving meals. Last October, students worked with grade school children teaching stress and anger management skills. The year-long program will culminate with a recognition dinner on May 4 to honor students who have remained dedicated to the meetings and volunteer work.

According to Coleman there is a core group of students regularly attending meetings, but he would like to expand the group. Questionnaires are passed out at the end of each meeting with graduate students doing follow up work with those in attendance to refine the workshop topics hoping to get more students involved next semester.

“In the African-American community you don’t see a lot of African-American males coming out of college and coming back to their communities and being successful. Getting involved you learn how to deal with people, present to people, talk and work with people,” Coleman said.

The program has relied heavily on community support working with the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning as well as outside community programs. Ted Sikes works for Wise Guys and leads each Rites of Passage workshop. Wise Guys is a North Carolina Family Life Council program that works with local schools emphasizing male responsibility and teen pregnancy prevention.

Coleman said the Wise Guys came recommended from several staff members on campus and their goals matched up nicely with the program he wanted to institute, although the Rites of Passage discussion topics are chosen by Coleman.

Coleman hopes to compile the survey data he’s collected through the program by the end of the semester and refine Rites of Passage.

“My whole thing is I want to provide something that is going to have a meaningful impact on our students and if this is a population that is having some struggles then I want to make sure we can provide some programs to help them deal with those struggles and achieve (their goals well),” he said.

Rites of Passage will hold its final meeting April 15. For more information visit the Multicultural Resource Center in the EUC or the Office of Mulicultural Affairs website,

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