Posted on February 10th in REACH Blog

Black History Month: A Time of Reflection and Assessment

When I was younger, Black History Month meant reading the biographies of famous African Americans and writing papers about civil rights leaders. Now, I see Black History Month as more than just a time of reflection. It is a time of assessment.

As President and CEO of PTK, I look at everything. Does the membership of PTK reflect the diversity of our colleges? Do we have PTK staff who reflect the diversity of the membership? Are Black students engaging with the PTK programs? Are Black students applying and receiving scholarships? Are Black students running and winning International Officer elections? We strive and are successful in keeping a yes beside all of these questions.

We firmly believe that success rates among community college students should be equitable across races, and at Phi Theta Kappa, they are. Black students who are members of Phi Theta Kappa have a 93% success rate, which is 2% higher than the success rate of all PTK members. We are proud of our outcomes for Black students and for all students. See our equity profile here.

While these outcomes look great at PTK, the same is not true for community colleges in general. A recent study showed the dropout rate of Black community college students as 50%; which is 15% higher than White students and 25% higher than Asian students. One reason for this is that Black students, particularly Black males, have issues identifying as college students. This leads to a “college is not for me” mindset that interferes with the development of a sense of belonging in college. But, for many, PTK fills that gap and creates the sense of belonging that students need to stay enrolled when life gets rocky.

Research tells us that students who are engaged in activities and organizations on campus are more likely to stay on track and meet their educational goals. Groups like athletic teams, student government, special activity clubs, and Phi Theta Kappa all serve a purpose beyond your individual interests—they create a sense of belonging for students who otherwise might not believe they are college material. This is important for all students, but particularly for Black students, who have historically been underrepresented in higher education.

In celebration of Black History Month, I want to ask you to do two things. First, use Black History Month as a time of assessment. Does your chapter reflect the diversity of your college? If not, why? If not, what can you and your chapter members do to make sure that everyone feels welcome? Next, be intentional about your participation in college activities so that you and others benefit from the sense of community that makes community colleges so special and so unique.

Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner is President and CEO of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Phi Theta Kappa is recognized by American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) as the official honor society of community and technical colleges. She also serves on the AACC Board of Directors. Follow her on Twitter @tincherladner.

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