College professor making black excellence the norm
By Jasminee Sahoye
Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel, founder of the Bridge program at Humber College says the majority of students who have been participating in the program, which was launched in the summer of 2013, are blacks.
The Bridge program focuses on ensuring the increased retention and graduation rates of black students. It is open to all African, Black and Caribbean students enrolled in any of the programs within the School of Social and Community Services.
Daniel, who is the coordinator for the Community and Justice Services (CJS) program, found that there has been a significant number of black students dropping out of that program.
She believes that the school system has failed many black students because they fit the stereotypes. Many are male, from low income families and neighbourhoods, they come from the English speaking Caribbean, are taking mainly applied courses and have a high rate of absenteeism.
“When we look at what’s happening in the college system, the pattern is very much the same. Predominantly black, predominantly male, experiencing academic challenges, personal challenges and limited engagement with the academic community,” she said.
Daniel, who came from Trinidad and Tobago as a teenager, said that as a black person she experienced negative comments to the effect that she would never succeed.
In the course of performing her role of determining which students should be withdrawn from the CJS program, she discovered that the black students formed the majority of those not making the grades.
“Approximately 80-87 per cent of the students who were slated to be withdrawn for academic reasons were black students.”
Daniel said the goal of the Bridge program is to realize the transformative powers possible when black students are exposed to stimulating experiences in an academic setting.
“Students are allowed to look at issues around identity development, developing comprehensive active identities, leadership skills development and networking,” she said
It empowers them and allows them to challenge preconceived, negative stereotypical notions of black student success. The underlying premise of the Bridge program is that, in order to effectively change the common perception, one must first change one’s self-perception. Black students have become so inundated with the negative messages of the prospects of their success that it becomes difficult to envision the normalcy of success and excellence.
“It’s about beginning to understand a different set of messages, because many of the conceptions and messages they have developed about themselves are extremely negative,” she said.
She added that when she looked at the students who are applying to college and confirming their attendance, she found that black students are less likely to confirm their attendance and are dropping out.
“They don’t have the support they need; they don’t have the attitude of success. For many of them, even when they do get in, their attitude is ‘I just want to finish’ ”, Daniel said, explaining that they have no sense of what is their next step forward, what are their options, what are the skill sets that they need.