Statistics show that the odds are stacked against young black males when it comes to completing a four-year college program. It has been well documented that this population remains one of the most marginalized student groups in the United States. At Neumann, the statistics for our black male students reflect realities that exist throughout our nation.
Denise Murray, an academic advisor, felt strongly that this population of students needed a class more tailored to them and their needs and struggles. As a result, she pioneered and is teaching the first Black Male INT 101 course.
One of the main purposes of this pilot course is to make space to hear black men, focus attention on their struggles, and identify factors that impede or assist in black males’ low retention, persistence and graduation rates.
“I saw a need as an academic advisor for this type of program. It’s wonderful that Neumann allowed these students to have a voice and a space to feel included,” she said.
Murray sent a flyer explaining the class to all black male freshmen, and 85 percent wanted to be a part of this core requirement. The course was originally capped at 12 students, but the demand was much higher and now the class has 23 students.
“We do basically the same things as other INT classes, but we teach them in a different way,” Murray explained.
Murray recently traveled to Africa to meet with members of the Akan tribe in Ghana. After having her DNA analyzed, she discovered that her roots traced back to this tribe. There she met with the chief of the tribe, Dr. Kwa David Whitaker, Esq., who is a published author. His book, How I became an African Chief, is one of the books used in her INT class.
While she was with her tribe, Murray witnessed the chief stepping out to address his people. His first word to them was “ago” (meaning are you listening) and they all immediately replied “ame” (you have my attention). She was so moved by this short conversation that she brought it back to Neumann University.
During the first INT class with the black male freshmen, Murray turned to the group and said “ago,” and to her surprise a majority of the students automatically responded “ame.”
“The attitudes are wonderful, and all the guys are showing up. I gave them a challenge this semester, to get all As and Bs,” Murray said. “All of these guys are accepting that they have a responsibility and a job to do.”
It may seem odd that a black female would be teaching this class to black males, but Murray is quick to explain how her own personal experiences have given her insights that resonate with her students.
Murray grew up in North Philadelphia, was the oldest of nine children, and helped her single mother raise her seven brothers. She shares her family’s struggles with her INT students. She educates them about what it was like growing up poor in an improvised Philadelphia enclave during the civil rights era. Based on these life experiences, Murray feels she is more than qualified to teach these students.
“I can’t tell them how to be a man, but I can put together a program that gets them to reflect on who they are and what it means to be a man,” Murray said.
In a few short weeks, Murray has seen a transformation occurring with her students. They have embraced the black male INT course and they are embracing her as their teacher.
“When our first class was over, I turned around and I had a line of guys waiting and they said, ‘Can we get a hug?’” Murray fondly recalled.