Hear Me Out: Being a Black Man in Residence Life

Interesting. Labyrinth. Necessary. Unique. These are just a few words to describe the ever-changing experiences of Black males, especially in residential life. When starting a career in student affairs, housing is often deemed as a great place to “get your feet wet” in the field and you’ll hear a vast amount of stories related to duty, budgeting, and supervision. However, it is rare to hear about the very real, lived experiences of Black people in housing, let alone, Black males. Hear Me Out: Being a Black Man in Residence Life is an interactive panel discussion where five Black male-identified professionals will share their perspectives working in housing. The presenters in this session serve in various contexts at a wide range of institutions. From the traditional Resident Director role at a public Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in California to a Complex Coordinator at a small private university in Georgia, the presenters combined bring over 20 years of experiences working in residential life. They felt that it was necessary to highlight oft-overlooked narratives related to Black males in housing. Why now? Read further to see a few reasons why its important for these stories to be told:

Jamal J. Myrick:

To be honest, it is not often that you get to hear about the experiences of Black males working in residential life from such a wide-range of perspectives. When I first started working in residential life, I noticed that it wasn’t a lot of Black men working long term in this functional area compared to diversity work, men of color initiatives, or other areas. There is a need for younger professionals to hear these stories to have a better grasp of what they’re getting into and it’s essential for supervisors/administrators to hear these stories so they know how to better support Black males in residential life. We’re needed.

Vincent Morton, Jr.:

“You’ve never done this before? Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up fast,” said my former supervisor. These words repeatedly poured over my mind as I realized that my supervisor would not play a role in developing me as a professional.  This short, but impactful anecdote from my first post-master’s job in residential life left an impression that I believe no professional should ever experience. In a field that claims to value mentorship, this experience left a lot to be desired.

Luckily my passion for students helped me reconnect to my “why” and find a role that will allow me to thrive in a better environment. The opportunity to share my story is important because I can give voice to what many Black males are secretly facing on a daily basis. By highlighting the wrongs, we can begin to develop a solution to resolve the mistreatment in this field.

Residential life is an area where people are constantly in flux and I did not understand how to properly navigate this functional area. I did not have many Black male role models to show me how to DHWB (Do Housing While Black) until I met my mentor. He showed me the way and I believe that as the field continues to evolve, it’s important to guide those coming after me. If we don’t, who will? They’re our stories and our voice.  For us, by us.

Ron Alexander:

This presentation stems from my constant bouts of imposter syndrome revealed in the field through my work and efforts in the various spaces that I occupy. Oftentimes, I’ve wondered if I was dealing with this internal struggle alone and eventually decided to find a space for me in higher education. ACPA provided so many opportunities for me to grow professionally and find a home with people who look like me through the Pan African Network. Once in PAN, I found other men who shared similar experiences in Residential Life and felt compelled to share these stories for the next generation of young professionals.

Montez Paschall:

Having worked in many different job types, I never imagined that I would experience some of the same toxic situations that I encountered outside of student affairs, inside a field that I know and love. As a black male DOING THE WORK, I’m challenged as I continue to learn ways to support students of color while resolving my own professional and personal trauma. To add, working with stakeholders who do not understand the value of my presence and often undermines my contributions to these students. I know that I am here to support all students, however, I grasp the increased level of support that many of my students of color need to navigate the institution to be successful.

Despite my professional expertise and education, feelings of doubt and dubiousness exhibited by students and their families is ever present. When a parent’s child is not receiving expected service, my professional credibility is called into question. I know that I’m not immune to the “let me speak to your supervisor” requests from parents, but I am aware that this question is not always attached to my blackness/perceived age/gender. In many cases, it is simply a protective mechanism working in tandem with privilege, but it happens more frequently than I am comfortable acknowledging and it creates a level of discomfort and insecurity in my work:

Do you respect my work?

Do you respect me?

Do you understand what I [can] do?

How I can be helpful?

These are questions that often chip away at my morale when these situations occur. When someone receives an unfavorable answer and follows up with a white administrator, this often creates a barrier with the student/family for the future. My hope with the presentation is that we are able to tell our stories and talk about how we still work to overcome these issues

Joshua Kolapo

When I think of Higher Education I think of professionals creating an inclusive space for students and the people we work with. Through my years I have found that not to be 100% true. I have been challenged in different ways that has impacted the professional route I have taken. If you would of asked me in grad school where I would be in 5 years, I would of instantly said Orientation or International Admissions with no hesitation. Coming on 4 years in housing, I start to think why and what keeps me here. I instantly go to the growth and various challenges that I’ve experienced in this field. Some of which I hope no one else has to ever experience in their professional career. There is a reason why some people leave housing and others stay. As a black man it’s not because I am a  “ResLifers” but it is because of the impact that I have and the way I navigate the intersectionality of my work and personal life. These stories are unique and need to be heard. I hope that people come to this session to learn and be inspired to continue the great work that I know we all can be doing in Higher Education.

 

About the Presenters:

Vince Morton 

Hailing from the Boniwood neighborhood of Clinton, Maryland, Vincent Morton Jr has used every life experience, good and bad, as an opportunity to learn and grow. He aims not only to improve the world around him, but to incite everyone he interacts with to recognize the value in their lives–while accepting the charge to inspire others to do the same. Vincent has found a way to use the field of Higher Education to inspire students to stay alive and thrive. From his career, he has authored a self-help book, I Don’t Know Me Yet, But You Will (available on Amazon), served as a voice of help during many student crises and added, a much needed, black male perspective to the table at a few universities along the way. Vincent has shown himself to be committed to the betterment and attainment of higher education for students of all colors and backgrounds.  

Jamal Myrick 

Jamal Myrick is a scholar-practitioner on a journey of constant learning and growth. Currently, Jamal is serving as a Resident Director at the University of California, Riverside while completing his doctorate at Azusa Pacific University. Jamal is passionate about his community and this shows through his work in the Pan African Network (PAN) as well as on his campus. Jamal is excited to share his story with his colleagues and peers.

 

 

Residential and Community Living Portraits

Joshua Kolapo

Nigerian born and raised in Florida, Joshua Kolapo has had an array of experiences that has shaped his Student Affairs journey. Navigating being a transfer student at the University of West Florida allowed him to explore more than just his undergraduate degree which led him to Student Affairs. After completing his graduate program at the University of South Florida he landed a job in International Admission. Here he was able to continue working with a population of students that he was passionate about. Looking for a change he moved to New York to start his first job in Residence Life at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Currently he is a Complex Coordinator at University of California Santa Barbara. Here he has been able to open up a new apartment complex and explore what it means to literally build a community from scratch.

 

Ron Alexander  

Born and raised in east Atlanta, Ron was born in Decatur, Georgia to the parents of a school teacher aide and a businessman. As education at the center of importance in his household Ron was always motivated academically to excel in elementary and secondary school. As a child, Ron was raised in a single parent household with his mother and his grandmother and would be the first one in his family to finish college. Ron began his college career at Howard University but ended up transferring to Georgia State University(‘11) where he became involved in campus life. With number of professional mentors and his involvement in student organizations, Ron pursed his Master of Education to study student development theory and higher education at the University of West Georgia (‘13).

After completing Graduate School Ron moved to the northeast for his role as a Residence Director at Stony Brook University. During this time Ron began his professional journey in Housing and Residence Life and even joined Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Ron’s move to the northeast was motivated by being close to his father side of the family who he had not had much connection with in youth era. He also wanted to explore the difference in region from the southeast to the northeast. After 2 wonderful years at SBU, Ron accepted a role in Washington, DC in 2015 at the George Washington University as an Area Coordinator for the Mount Vernon campus. In this role, Ron received more experience in supervision of not just undergrad student staff but now graduate student Residence Directors. Ron also was able to revamp and lead the transition opening process for student move-in in a major metropolitan city during his time at GW. After almost 3 years at GWU, Ron decided it was time to live out his purpose back home in Atlanta where he laid his roots. Ron currently serves as the Compex Director for the Clairmont campus at Emory University.

Outside of his job responsibilities Ron is extremely involved in the field, he his now serving on the Pan African Network of ACPA Directorate board, the Commission for Housing and Residence Life Directorate Board, and will be GCPA 2019 Conference chair. Ron also has a cat named Mason and enjoys traveling with him abroad and domestically.

My why behind this presentation stems from many times facing imposter syndrome within the field, within my work, efforts I made, and the feeling of inadequacy internally. I often wondered was I alone in this struggle that I faced internally and intrinsically  and eventually decided within myself to find my home in this world. ACPA provided so many opportunities for me to grow professionally and within of network of folks who looked like me through the Pan African Network. I began to realize that many of the men that I was surrounding myself within PAN had many shared experiences as me and all worked within the Residence Life functional area. These experience varied in many different levels and I began to believe that it would be important to share our experiences as young professionals.

Montez Paschall 

Born and raised in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Montez (he/him/his) has had many experiences that he uses in his work as a Student Affairs professional. Montez found his way into Students Affairs an undergraduate student at Tufts University (A’11). His time as a low-income, first-generation, student-athlete proved to be very challenging as he did not feel prepared for his collegiate struggles. However, with the encouragement of friends/fraternity brothers and the assistance of on-campus mentors, Montez found his path through employment and involvement with the Office of Student Life. It was in the position as a student employee that he learned that he could work on campuses professionally and help other students who had challenges transitioning into college.

Following graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania (GSE ‘15), Montez returned to Massachusetts to continue his mission which is to help students realize their promise and remind them that they belong on their campuses. He has had the privilege of working in Student Activities, Student Center Operations and in Residential Life. Currently a Community Director at the University of Massachusetts (UMass)-Boston, Montez returned to his hometown of Dorchester, MA in 2018 to assist with UMass Boston’s FIRST ever Residence Hall. During this venture, he has been able to bring his experience and excitement to a new department that is propelling itself into a fruitful future.

Over the past few years, Montez has taken a special interest in working with men and masculinity. He has had the opportunity to facilitate workshops at several New England colleges including Dartmouth College, Amherst College, and now UMass Boston. Using his experience a Black man and a former student-athlete, Montez works with students to identify the ways in which their masculinity impacts their campus culture and way to positively redefine masculinity. As a proud brother of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc, this work is very important to him. Montez is very excited to present with this group of young black male professionals at the 2019 ACPA Convention. The Black male experience in Residential Life is very challenging and needs to be highlighted.

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