A dad's view: Why black youth need academic role models

April 07, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

From time to time I get a request from a reader to run a letter without a signature.

That's contrary to Herald-Mail policy, so when I've been asked, I have usually said "no."

When I make an exception, I do it by including the letter in my personal column. That way readers have my assurance that the letter is from someone real, as opposed to something made up to fill space.

In the past, I've done this for people such as the adult survivors of child sexual abuse and a local businessman who visited Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The latter wanted to share his impressions without calling attention to himself.

The letter that follows is from a young, African-American professional who works in the Tri-State area and is concerned about the recent Herald-Mail story about African-American students and the lack of any full-time black faculty at Hagerstown Community College.


We talked for about 45 minutes about the issue of black students who attend a school where there are no full-time black faculty members.

If they have problems, academic or otherwise, he asked, would they feel comfortable talking to someone who has likely not shared any of their culture or experiences?

But in Hagerstown, a student whose family does not have a lot of money may find the choice is between going to Hagerstown Community College or not going to college at all. He fears that without black role models and mentors of color, black youth may conclude higher education is not for people of color.

So why can't he just say this? Because he fears that revealing his name would have adverse consequences for his professional life.

Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't, but as he said, I can't really know what people of color experience in an area where they are in the minority.

So here is his letter. I print it here knowing I will get other requests to do the same, requests I will almost certainly reject.

"The issue regarding HCC and its efforts to recruit and retain minority/black students is some- what of a joke.

"No student wants to attend an institution that lacks diversity in its administration and faculty. If I am paying my money for what is to be a quality education, I want my son or daughter to be taught by some people who look like them.

"I also want my kids to be able to seek out services from administrators who resemble the culture that they are associated with.

"Minority students attending HCC are not comfortable because they don't see any leaders who look like them.

"HCC has an obligation to this community to recruit and hire faculty and administrators who are truly representative of this community that they claim to want to serve.

"It is not just about putting black faces in high places. The institution must have a commitment to recruit qualified members of the community to fill those positions for which they are most suited.

"Along with that, HCC must provide these employees with the opportunity to do their jobs without out feeling that they are tokens hired to help in the college's recruitment efforts.

"This is not happening. The community must challenge HCC to hire those members of the community who represent a diverse cross-section of our population.

"As is the case with most institutions like HCC, most minorities are confined to mowing grass, picking up trash or working in the kitchen. If HCC wants to recruit and retain a more diverse group of students, it needs to recruit and retain a more diverse administration.

"The college just cannot talk about it; it must do something about it. I would challenge The Herald-Mail and other news outlets to research HCC and the University System of Maryland to determine how many minority faculty they have on staff. I am sure that would show that the numbers are few."

As I said in my Wednesday column, this is not just an issue for HCC, but one for the entire community. Just as I argued for years that African-American youth needed to see a candidate for the City Council to show them that government wasn't just for white folks, they also need black professors to show them that higher education is something everyone can aspire to, regardless of race.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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