New Group at Wright State U. Takes Black Parents' Involvement to a New Level

May 30, 2008

Orlando, Fla. — A word of caution to any black high-school student who thinks going away to college will mean getting away from the folks: Ohio’s Wright State University may not be the place for you.

A Wright State mentoring program’s efforts to reach out to the parents of black male freshmen has given rise to a group of parents intent on reaching back toward the university and its black students. The year-old group, the African American Parent Caucus, now publishes an occasional newsletter, is raising money to provide emergency financial assistance to students in need, and holds meetings on the campus about every month so parents can trade advice on subjects such as keeping their children at Wright State on track.

“This program is amazing,” Linda Bolds, one of the 20-member caucus’s leaders, boasted today in describing her organization here at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education. She said she knew her son would need help because he is so social that “anything he can get his hands into, he will try to do it.” But thanks in part to her involvement, she said, “he is doing a good job and I am very proud of him.”

Of the 30 black men who entered the mentoring program last fall, 21 completed their freshman year and plan to return this fall, according to Stanford Baddley, director of the university’s academic-support programs for minority students. To try to measure the effectiveness of the program, the university tracked the progress of 30 similar black freshmen who were not served by it, and found that just five were still enrolled.

The growing caucus has opened its doors to the parents of black women. University officials and caucus leaders say one key to the group’s success is that the parents have pushed their sons to sign waivers of federal privacy laws so the parents can have access to the students’ grades. Now, when a mother asks her son how he is doing and he responds by simply saying “fine,” she can get a look at his academic record to determine exactly what “fine” means.

“Some kids don’t want to be totally dependent on mom and dad, but they like to know that you still care about them,” said Delores Randolph, another leader of the group. “My son has been OK with it — I think.” —Peter Schmidt