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Five Things Parents Should Ensure For Their College Bound Students

Eric Michael Washington

It is one thing for African American students to gain admission to Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs), and quite another thing to thrive at them. It is imperative for TWIs to retain their minority students, and there are structures in place that aid in this goal such as academic support, cultural support, and programmatic support. But in addition, I would like to offer five pieces of advice to the parents of African American students, from my perspective as a former student and current college professor, that I believe will help African American students thrive at TWIs.

Take African and African-American History Courses

This first piece of advice might sound a bit self-serving since I am a history professor who specializes in the history of Africa and its New World diaspora. However, I have strong sentiments about this. Taking four Africa-related and Diaspora-related courses in college set me on my current trajectory in life, but they also did much more than that. These classes were the only courses that a good number of African American students took collectively. These courses also filled a personal void as I learned about my ancestral homeland and re-aligned my identity as an African descended person, not merely an African American person. I believe that African Americans students must take advantage of this opportunity to study their history.

Learn a Language

Whatever major your student chooses, encourage him/her to learn a language, and not simply “take” the required two-sequence language requirement. I realize not all students have equal capacities to learn a language at the same pace. It takes lots of practice, but the results are immeasurable.

Read Outside the Curriculum

As a professor, I encourage students to read outside the syllabus. I know students have varied interests, and so little time, yet I give students unofficial outside reading lists as I teach. This is something that I did throughout my undergraduate studies. I remember reading a biography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and the autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. I read Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Power and Black Theology by James H. Cone, and The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man by James W. Johnson. It is critical for African American students to become familiar with African, African American, and Caribbean canons of scholarship in history, literature, and philosophy.

Get a Passport

This is so important. Colleges and universities offer many opportunities to study overseas. I cannot emphasize how life-changing this is. As I teach at a college with a whole host of off-campus study opportunities, I know the value of this. A colleague and I will be venturing off-campus in January to experience two Caribbean societies. It is one thing to study other societies in the classroom, but it is a far different thing to study “on the ground.”

From my vantage point, there are far too few African American students at TWIs taking advantage of off-campus studies, especially overseas opportunities. I realize it is an added financial burden to shoulder for families, but it is worth it for your student. Work with your child to plan a way to finance overseas travel. Encourage your student to take advantage of these opportunities.

Follow their Passion

I am reading a novel called The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. In the novel, Obioma details his home life in Nigeria during the 1990s. At one early section, Obioma describes how the patriarch of the family decides the career of each of his sons. In speaking with students who have demonstrated their talent in historical studies, I put a plug in that they should consider majoring or minoring in history. In many cases, the students confess that his/her parents want them to be engineers, or go into business, but not into any field in the humanities.

Often, a professor can see a great talent in a student that a parent is unable. I implore parents to have an honest conversation with their student about what drives and motivates them. Allow students to chart their own course according to their passions. This does not mean parents should take a laissez faire approach, but they should help their students locate their passions and offer good suggestions for fields of undergraduate study.

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