For Project Success, the mission isn’t just to increase the persistence and graduation rates for men of color on campus.
The mentoring program also strives to mold leaders and critical thinkers. For alumnus and recently hired coordinator Rogelio Contreras (‘17, liberal studies) that means coming up with different workshops to help participants explore identity, discover their gifts and get comfortable reaching out for help and the resources they need to be successful.
“Men of color often don’t have a point of reference on how to navigate the university system,” Contreras said. “Project Success makes the students into a resource for others.”
During a Jan. 30 event on masculinity and gender norms, Project Success students watched a Ted Talk video of “Jane the Virgin” actor Justin Baldoni discussing how he often felt hampered by societal expectations of him based on his gender and critiqued notions of what is labeled masculine.
Reggie Robles (‘12, political science), leadership development coordinator, led the discussion which ranged from how socialization and environment dictate behavior to the value of being as authentic as possible to the importance of vulnerability.
Robles shared that when he told his closest friends that he loved them, he was so scared and shaking because he was not raised to share his feelings in that manner.
“What I am saying is not that masculinity is bad,” he said. “We don’t do it well, but that’s because we haven’t been taught how to do it. We haven’t had these conversations about how we interact with each other.”
He urged the students find peers, friends, professors and staff they can open up to and tap as a source of support. No one succeeds alone, he said.
“We need a village around each other,” he said. “You need mentors. You need great friends…those who are going to support you and push you to be your ultimate best self. If you are struggling emotionally, find someone to talk to about it. If you are not doing well in academics, find somebody to help you with that. Your success is determined by your dedication, determination, resilience and also by the people you ask for help.”
The university launched Project Success in 2015 in response to campus data from 2010 that showed African American and Latino male students tended to have the lowest persistence rates from year one to year two compared to Caucasian male students. The aim in creating the program was to align with the chancellor’s office and President Soraya M. Coley’s goal to eliminate the achievement/opportunity gap by 2025. The program, which targets first-generation freshman and transfer men of color, later expanded to include Native American and Asian American Pacific Islander male students.
Contreras, who worked as an intern for Project Success as a student and subsequently served as the program’s administrative assistant before being tapped as coordinator, said the idea behind the event focused on masculinity and gender roles was to help male students of color learn to be more open and vocal about their needs.
“It’s about the importance and urgency of men of color not only knowing what their resources are, but being vulnerable enough to ask for help,” he said.
National data on six-year college degree attainment rates shows that women of color outpace men. For African American, Latino, Native American and Asian American Pacific Islander female students, the degree attainment rates are 44 percent, 58 percent, 42 percent and 53 percent respectively compared to 35 percent, 49 percent, 37 percent and 50 percent for their male peers.
Part of that disparity is that female students in general are more likely to seek our resources and ask questions, Contreras said.
“Women are more likely to voice their needs and wants, while men are falling behind because they are not raising their hands,” he said. “We are hoping to destigmatize being open and vulnerable, especially as it relates to cultural expectations.”