New Ph.D. Program in Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst Brings Black Men Back to the Academy

AMHERST, Mass. - The new University of Massachusetts Ph.D. program in Afro-American studies is proving increasingly successful in attracting black males, even though the statistics for black men attending college nationwide are discouraging, says Afro-American studies professor Robert Paul Wolff.

"We are having unusual success in bringing gifted black men, particularly older gifted black men, back into academia," says Wolff. "While we are also attracting equal numbers of black women, in light of national trends our success with black men is significant."

Now completing its second full year, the UMass program is one of only three doctoral programs in Afro-American studies in the country, and the only one in the Northeast. It currently has nine doctoral candidates, two of them African-American men, four of them African-American women. Next fall, the program will admit six more students, three of them African-American men, one of them an African-American woman.

Wolff says that all four of the African-American students entering next fall are older students, and that three of them are men. Two will be 40, one 41, and one 30 years old. One of the male students is a Harvard graduate who for almost 20 years has been running a radio program in Atlanta. Another is a man who left college without a degree almost 20 years ago and only recently finished his undergraduate studies in Chicago. "These are men who discontinued their studies due to a variety of outside circumstances," says Wolff. "But UMass has offered them something they haven’t found before."

Significantly, two-thirds of this year’s black applicants to the program were men, adds Wolff, a highly encouraging fact considering the so-called "disappearance of black men from college campuses."

Wolff says that next fall the department will involve graduate students in a new program aimed at providing mentoring and research opportunities for incoming minority freshmen. "The recent Boyer Commission Report issued by the Carnegie Foundation calls for exactly the sort of program we are instituting," Wolff says.

By employing older minority students in the mentoring of younger minority students, Wolff says the Afro-American studies department is not only helping lure older black students back to campus ? it is allowing them to help fight minority dropout rates at the source.