EMU Expands Community Involvement for Men of Color

By Linda Hass | Published April 27, 2016

Eastern Michigan University is proud of its standing as one of the most culturally diverse institutions in the Midwest—a reputation built, in part, by dedicated faculty like Raul Leon, associate professor in leadership and counseling in the College of Education.

Leon is a co-founder and leadership board member of the BrotherHOOD Initiative (Helping Others Obtain Degrees), a university-wide initiative designed to foster a stronger sense of community for men of color at EMU. He also serves as co-chair of the Men of Color Degree Completion and Retention Plan Committee, which is dedicated to enhancing students’ progress towards and completion of their degrees.

Through collaborative partnerships across campus, these initiatives help create an engaging community and provide valuable academic support, personal growth opportunities, and professional exposure to mentors and career advice for men of color, equipping them with the tools they need to become successful before and after they earn their degrees, says Leon

“Nationally, the college retention rate for men of color is very low. Eastern is dedicated to counteracting that by fostering fellowship and inclusion for first-generation, culturally under-represented men of color.”

Living Learning Communities

In his role as co-chair, Leon was instrumental in developing and planning a living learning community in Seller’s Hall, where men of color live and learn together. Thanks to a strong partnership with Housing and Residential Life, this community supports personal growth and positive change and promotes programs focused on physical wellness, purposeful decision-making, and psychological well- being.

Aligned with these strategic efforts, the campus also offers spaces where all males of color come together to develop as individuals. One example is the BrotherHOOD Barbershop, coordinated by Reginald Barnes, the director of EMU’s Office of Diversity community Involvement.

“Twice a month, we bring 3-4 local African-American barbers to campus to not only cut hair, but to lend a listening ear and build relationships,” says Leon. During these barbershops, students engage in personal growth conversations, interact with invited speakers and actively have the opportunity to devote time to personal reflection, he says.

“One student told me that the Barbershop is a place where he and others feel motivated, inspired and part of a real community,” Leon adds.

Michael G. Morris Endowed Chair

In addition to these programs, Leon also serves as project coordinator for the Michael G. Morris Endowed Chair, which provides funds for outstanding faculty members or visiting faculty performing in the top echelons in their disciplines to assist the EMU College of Education in achieving its vision of transforming education.

As project coordinator, Leon has conducted research and has guided efforts to build capacity regarding the success of African-American male students in higher education. Through a speaker series, targeted meetings, focus groups, seminars and evaluation efforts, Leon and others have helped to promote an institution that fulfills the needs of males of color enrolled at the University.

Positive Difference

Leon’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. “Raul is dedicated to tackling one of the biggest retention challenges in the country, and he’s making a positive difference,” says Michael Sayler, dean of EMU’s College of Education.

The statistics support that claim. Last year, 39 men of color enrolled in EMU’s degree completion program, and 38 came back this year. “That’s a 90% retention rate,” says Sayler.

Other statistics also reflect the program’s success. Nationally, Black males represent about 5.5 percent of college students, according to research. At EMU, however, Black/African American students comprised about 18 percent of Eastern’s overall enrollment last fall, and from 1992 to 2012, the number of Black/African-American students increased almost 159 percent.

“So far, the results have been very rewarding, but they also enhance my sense of responsibility to continue with this work—this is only the beginning,” he says.

The Michael G. Morris Endowed Chair is designed to facilitate learning and leadership experiences to support the EMU faculty, staff and students in developing the knowledge, research and capacity need to enhance and or transform education.

It is named after Michael G. Morris, who served on the EMU Board of Regents and who received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology from Eastern. Morris was president, chief executive officer, and chairman of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, one of the USA's largest generators of electricity. He also founded and served as president of ANR Gathering Company, one of the first natural gas marketing companies in the United States, among accomplishments.