BY Danielle Terry, BLACK Student Success Program Coordinator | Oakton Community College
It was the midst of the pandemic and I was charged with building a program to support Black students. The Building Lasting African Culture and Knowledge (BLACK) Student Success program supports the enrollment, retention, and completion of Black and Pan-African students at Oakton. BLACK focuses on deconstructing historical and contemporary issues of systemic racism, anti-Black racism, and educational inequities. The vision is for students to engage in critical learning opportunities that provide tools for successfully navigating the Oakton experience.
The challenge I worried about most was connecting with a diverse group of Black students. In my experience, most folks classify all Black folks as “African American” and that was not the case for the neighborhoods I was now serving. Looking at the student name list, I noticed lots of beautiful names like “Bolaji”, “Afuwa”, and “Olalade” which caused me to acknowledge and explore the gap in my knowledge of who are the Black people who reside in and around the communities of Oakton Community College and how would I connect and support them.
As I began hearing from students and finding out what some of their challenges were, I realized basic needs such as food, rent, tuition, and transportation were at the forefront of student concerns. To remedy this, I began assisting students with the completion of the CARES and FAFSA/Alternate application. Upon further investigation, I found and assisted another group of students in receiving technology resources and Oakton Caring Closet food and personal items. In connecting students to these resources, I began to build strong relationships with them. Students were more willing to have group discussions and participate in co-curricular activities.
“I was shy and nervous but intrigued at the idea of having a program specifically geared toward Black students. I was looking to have a safety net, financial resources, and new friends. I found that and then some.”
Stephanie, 2nd year
Today, the BLACK Student Success Program has over 60 members who participate in a variety of ways including meeting weekly to discuss needs, participating in co-curricular programs and hosting events as student leaders within the BLACK Student Union. In just a short time during the Fall 2021 semester the BLACK Student Success Program was able to make a wide range of community partners including:
• Family Action Network
• Broadway Youth Center
• YWCA Evanston/Northshore
• DePaul University Labor Education Center
• Chicago State University(African American Male Resource Center)
• City of Des Plaines
“I am involved in leadership opportunities including being BSU President and a member of the Student Success Team. These opportunities have given me the resources and education to mentor younger Black Students who are considering coming to Oakton to participate in this program.”
Edward, 2nd year
As I look forward to what all the Black Student Success Program can be, I’m reminded that, in the ever presence of Anti-Blackness students are in need of Safety and sense of belonging which includes appropriate allyship(designated safe spaces, campus-wide engagement in critical learning opportunities), Increased Campus-wide cultural & social consciousness (acknowledgement of Immigrant, 1s Gen, ESL, LGBTQ+ identities), and increased Financial resources (Scholarships, book & travel vouchers, counseling, and mentoring.
“Even though this is a new environment, it may be difficult for me to navigate, but that does not mean I’m less serious about my education…it is the way the school is set up that prohibits immigrant students from succeeding.”
Afuwa Legzim, returning student
Oakton Community College is one of 25 Illinois higher education institutions that is a member of the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative. Learn more about ILEA today.