Men Make Way for MANdatory
New program helps male students bond over academics, leadership
by Michelle Simmons
October 3, 2011
At the beginning of the fall semester, several MANdatory members gathered to catch up from the summer. The hourlong conversation ranged from politics and urban gentrification to Greek life and barbershop culture. From left: Peter Paquette, assistant dean of students; Jonathan Baez ’12; Darrell Pacheco ’12; Mauricio Torres ’12; Norm Jones and Quan Tran ’12.
In his classic 1981 memoir, Hunger of Memory, author Richard Rodriguez recounted the sacrifices he made as the son of Mexican immigrants assimilating into American society. Rodriguez, who spoke only Spanish until he entered elementary school, wrote about the painful loss of family intimacy when he began speaking English. The further he went with his education—including earning degrees from Stanford and Columbia universities—the more isolated he felt from his family, culture and history.
That sense of isolation is keenly familiar to many students of color, no matter how successful they are.
“It sort of counters the American-dream narrative,” says Norm Jones, dean of diversity/student development and assistant to the president. “You work hard, you climb the ladder, but what happens when you climb the ladder is that you leave things behind. We often assume that those things left behind are not valuable, but that’s not a safe assumption to make.”
Last fall, Jones launched MANdatory, an intensive, six-week-long academic-enrichment and leadership program for male students of color at Dickinson. Through a combination of seminars, study teams and peer mentoring, MANdatory offered about 25 participants a safe space to discuss their challenges, create community and nurture their nascent skills.
The group met for two hours on Fridays and Saturdays, with extensive reading and writing assignments throughout the week. Former sociology major and Philadelphia-based poet Perry DiVirgilio ’00 inaugurated the program’s first MANdatory session last September, describing his experience at Dickinson and encouraging students to open up to new perspectives. Guest speakers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and historically black Morehouse College shared their expertise, while President William G. Durden ’71 discussed his own leadership journey, and Thomas Queenan, vice president for finance and administration, helped participants chart their financial future. Like Queenan, DiVirgilio and Jones, many of the mentors are men of color.
“Mentoring was highlighted in the program and is now [a concept] I firmly believe in,” adds political-science major Darrell Pacheco ’12, an Honors Scholar who transferred to Dickinson from Northampton Commun-ity College. “Having a mentor to discuss problems with, set goals with and obtain knowledge from is an invaluable resource. They hold you to your word and ensure that you’re doing your best.”
Equally important are the group discussions, which range from navigating an educational system that too often assumes male minorities are academically unprepared to overcoming stigmas surrounding mental-health counseling. And regardless of socioeconomic background, students of color often have to deal with racial and ethnic stereotyping, says Jones.
“You can pick up the paper any day of the week and read about some celebrities of color who were pulled over because they were driving a certain car in a certain neighborhood and they had a baseball cap on. They roll their window down, and it turns out to be [actor] Denzel Washington. Those are the kinds of conversations we have in MANdatory.”
As the weeks progress, participants grow more willing to reach out and ask for help. “They connect to others with similar challenges, rather than present themselves as having it all together,” Jones explains.
For economics major Quan Tran ’12, “MANdatory is like a big family. We all have different backgrounds and beliefs, and we all have different views on issues, but we learn how to approach and overcome those differences on a daily basis.”
A funding boost will allow MANdatory to expand as it begins its second year. Last spring, the Teagle Foundation awarded Dickinson, Bucknell University and Lafayette College a joint $300,000 grant to work collaboratively on enhancing diversity education in the liberal arts, and a portion of that award is funding MANdatory’s transition into a yearlong program.
“Those who don’t have the opportunity to be a part of it this fall will be able to participate in the spring,” explains Jones. “If we’re beginning to hit on areas where there was never any real support or affirmation, then it represents an opportunity to do some real work.”
This fall’s agenda includes New York University professor Robert Teranishi discussing the myth of the model-minority student, reading assignments around the concept of resiliency and a group hike on the Appalachian Trail.
As graduates of the pilot program, Tran and Pacheco will be two of the five student leader-mentors for 2011-12. Both already have exhibited their leadership skills on campus: Tran co-founded the Asian American Alliance; Pacheco serves on the executive board of the African American Society and is Student Senate vice president. They’re also equally proud of their GPAs.
“We challenge [the participants] to take it to the next level, and that relates to their leadership experience as well as their academic experience,” Jones says. “A lot of times we use in-and-out-of-classroom language so much that we bifurcate the experience. When you do better academically, that is leadership.”