I’m Dan Baum and you’re listening to Redefine U. Join us as we continue to explore what happens when we’re challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who we think we are.
In this, our third season, we’ll explore the subjects currently redefining our world: the pandemic, racial inequities, police reform and more. It’s been a challenging time for most of us, but 2020 has been hardest on the most vulnerable members of our society. What are some strategies that best help those in greatest need — not only in the academic setting, but in our larger community?
Dr. Reginald Stroble, assistant director for the Student Achievement and Success Program, talks to us about the students he serves, removing barriers and making space for hard conversations.
DAN: Today we're talking with Reggie Stroble with the Student Achievement and Success program. Hi, Reggie. Good to speak with you.
REGGIE: Hi, nice to speak with you as well.
DAN: How are you holding up during this pandemic?
REGGIE I would say the pandemic has presented some challenges. I'm working from home. I like to consider myself a practitioner who was hands on, so having to adjust how I approach student development and also how I approach student engagement has been a challenge. But I am glad to have this challenge because it's making me think of innovative and creative ways to engage with students virtually.
DAN: That's a very positive way to look at it. I like that. How long have you been at the college and what exactly is your role at the college?
REGGIE: I have been at AACC for a year and three months. I serve as the assistant director for the Student Achievement and Success Program. And I also serve as the coordinator for the university-wide Black Male Initiative. And in my role as assistant director for the Student Achievement and Success Program, I advise a caseload of students, I also provide direct support for the director of SASP. I supervise two full-time staff members. I have the capabilities of any advisor on campus. I help students register for courses, help students with issues they may have with financial aid. Also provide students with resources that they may need as far as anything academically. Being the coordinator of the Black Male Initiative. That is a wonderful program that is for students, faculty, and staff on campus to come and engage with our African American males on campus. Last year, we had actual four-year institutions to come to our Black Male Summit and then I also provide direct academic support for any Black male that is a part of the Black Male Initiative on campus. And then we also have monthly meetings or monthly discussions where we talk about issues that affect Black men on campus, that affect Black men nationwide, and then also just issues they may be facing academically, socially or spiritually.
DAN: So you don't have a whole lot going on is what you're saying.
REGGIE: No, I got a lot going on. I have a lot going on, but I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.
DAN: Just to get a little more background and context for our conversation, tell me more about the Student Achievement and Success Program. What exactly is it and what students are involved in that?
REGGIE: Thank you. So I like to say our office is a, sometimes a voice for the voiceless. So our primary audience, we serve underrepresented and minority students on campus. So that could be anywhere from a student who's a first generation college student, student may be African American, maybe Latino, while we have, we serve white students, we serve a comrade of students on campus. And our main responsibility is to provide the student success piece. So student success that looks like different things. So for one student, student success may be, you know, “I have a 1.2 GPA. I want to get my GPA up to a 2.5 or 3.0, what are the steps that I need to take to get there?” Students success for another student may look like, “all right, I want to come to AACC, but I know I want to transfer in two to three years to another college in Maryland. What are the steps that I need to take there?” And for some students, you know, they may come and say, “hey, I don't want to go to a four-year institution. I just want to pick up a trade. What are the steps that I need to take to get there?” So we are the resources students to help them achieve student success and whatever that is that looks like for them.
DAN: Okay. You mentioned you yourself are pretty hands on and you're having a lot of direct contact with students. So how are you making all of that work during a pandemic? When most of us are not physically on campus,
REGGIE: I would say Zoom has been my best friend, and Microsoft Teams has
been, has been one of the ways that I've been able to connect with students. And the second way has just giving students a phone call. So utilizing Google voice has been tremendous as well.
And one of the things that I'm learning is, is not, is not, it has not been an easy transition for our students in the virtual environment, because not only are we adjusting as professionals, they're also adjusting as students now taking courses virtually and sometimes being in their home setting. Right? And one of the issues is their home setting may not be the most conducive and productive for them. Coming on campus for some of our students, that was their break away from their environments. That was their kind of place to focus. So I would say, as I'm connecting with students, one of the, one of the main issues that it's reoccurring is staying and maintaining focus in their home environment.
DAN: You know, that feels true for many of us. I think that can speak to, as you said, we're kind of all learning at the same time, but that speaks to many of staff and faculty as well when you're juggling all the things that we're juggling. So I can, I can certainly relate to that.
Regardless of the current environment, you mentioned the goals that they're seeking potential, or maybe getting a better grades or transferring boat broader than that. What do students learn or gain most from being part of a program like SAPS? That's a great question.
REGGIE: That's a great question. I would say students gain that family away from home. And this is kind of a term that was coined by Dr. Terrell Strayhorn. He says, and I'm just paraphrasing this, but one of the, one of the leading indicators of student success for underrepresented students in particularly in particular Black males is a sense of belongingness. So that is just in a nutshell feeling that you belong in a particular space or that you belong on campus. So one of the things that I know that our department does is we provide that sense of belongingness to students because for first generation college students, and I'm a first gen myself, I was able to get the emotional support from my mom and father. But as far as how to navigate through college, as far as what courses I need to take, or if I'm struggling in English, I need to go see, go to the writing lab. I didn't have that support. So our department, we give students that additional support that it's going to make them academically successful. Not only for some of our students, are they working full time, but they're also trying to be a full-time student and financial issues have come up. So a student may say, I can't afford a textbook. For us, you know, retention is one of our main priorities. We don't want to let, just because you can't afford that textbook right now to hinder your success. So there's that. So that is how the textbook assistant program was born. Students who complete some of our requirements, they also receive a financial incentive to assist them with books, tuition, maybe personal needs or anything. So they also received that financial assistance as well. So we try to just based on research, you know, we were able to identify here's some hindered here's, here's some things to hinder students from being successful or, or, or being retained. And this is what we can do as a department to knock some of those hindrance out.
DAN (12:11): Yeah. Those resources are so important. I've been reading Trevor Noah's memoir and he mentioned the familiar phrase: you can give a man a fish.
DAN: And they eat for a day and you can, you know, but he said, but what if they don't have a fishing pole?
DAN: So you can, you can teach them to fish, but if you're not giving them the fish fishing pole, you know what I mean? So those resources are, are really important.
You also mentioned that sense of belonging and sense of family. So one of the initiatives that you're heavily involved in you noted was the Black Male Initiative. So tell me a little more about that and what the goals are and your role there.
REGGIE: Gotcha. So the number one goal of the Black Male Initiative is retention. Now retention for students, for our students. It looks, it looks differently because what research is showing is that, and I've done a lot of research on Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, Dr. Shaun Harper, and many other researchers who study Black male, just kind of advancement of Black male achievement is if you do not catch them within that first semester, then the likelihood of them being retained for their next semester or completing their degree is going to be low. So the first goal is retention in our first outreaches to incoming African American males. So my goal is to get you resources your first semester and within the first two weeks, because the term that’s referenced is called the cool pose. So that’s basically African American males, culturally and based on the environment that they grew up in, they have this sense of being cool and not necessarily letting people know what's going on with them emotionally and academically. So I’ve had African American males, I would blatantly ask, you know, how are you doing in your courses? And they'll say, you know, I'm doing cool. I'm doing fine. And then I pull their grades up and I find out they're not doing cool. They're not doing fine. So retention is the number one goal of the initiative. The second goal would be again, that sense of belonging. And then third is providing our African American males with multiple resources.
So I would say those are the three big goals and three big initiatives of the program.
DAN: So there's a lot happening in the world right now. I don't have to tell you that. What are you hearing from your students? Their feelings, their concerns, maybe their hopes at this point in time.
REGGIE: I would say, now it's, it's becoming, and this is scary for me is becoming a sense of numbness. Our students are frustrated and our students are seeking answers. I had a student today reach out and he was telling me just how confused he was. And I was just talking things through with him. And he said, I don’t understand how Breonna Taylor’s family could win a civil suit, but the student felt like it wasn't the same justice on the criminal side. He said can you explain how that works? And Dan, I honestly didn't have an answer for that student. When I was having that conversation with the student, the student is like, “time after time again, this is continuing to happen, the injustice in our country. And I don't necessarily know if I feel that I have a space to talk about these issues on campus at times.” And then the student also went on to say, hearing what happens to Breonna Taylor or logging onto Twitter and seeing police brutality. I've seen a couple of deaths via social media. And I don't feel that people were not conscious of police brutality. I don't feel like people weren't conscious of it, but actually seeing a real time. I think that is what’s really called causing the unrest. Because if you look at like the civil rights movement, there were some things that were caught on camera that we were able to see. But I feel now with this digital age that we're in, we're able to see a lot more. And one of the things that are caution the student and also just me kind of cautioning myself, I am becoming a little desensitized to it. I feel that's a scary place to be because there's so much going on in now with this still happening in the midst of a pandemic. I think the pandemic has forced a lot of us to sit down and see like, okay, wow, this is going on and this is the issue.
So the students that I have talked to are frustrated. And I do want to commend AACC, because a couple of weeks ago we had like av kind of social justice, kind of racial teach-in where, you know, faculty members across campus could kind of come in and talk about these issues. But I feel that our students want a space to now talk on campus and us being virtual, I think there should be a space for these students to voice their concerns and also just to let them know that they're not alone.
DAN: You know, another thing I'm hearing in what you're saying, Reggie, because everything you're saying is spot on is you're working with a lot of young people who the impact is powerful while you're experiencing the potential or risk of being desensitized to it. But what I find with my own children, they're not going to let that happen. Like, it's almost like they're reaching through that screen and grabbing you and saying, “I want answers. You know, you have to, you have to acknowledge the impact it's having on me.” Are you feeling that that's kind of, what's happening?
REGGIE: I'm feeling that is what's happening. And our students have a strong, powerful voice and they want to talk about, they want to talk about these issues. They want to talk about what's. We want to talk about what's going on and what's going to be the next steps.
DAN: I love what you said too though, because it's as out adults in particular, in the position, you're, in a lot of times we feel compelled to provide answers, particularly when you're giving resources, you're used to doing that. But something you said really struck a chord with me is that they need the space. They need the space to talk, voice their concerns, hear that they're not alone and that's not necessarily about answers.
REGGIE: That's correct. So I'm a huge component of that sense of belongingness. And I'm not in what I'm about to say is I'm not saying that it's every professor's job to acknowledge like social issues or social traumas that may happen in the world. I'm not saying that, but what I am saying is it would be nice to continue to have conversations where students can actually come and just talk about those concerns.
So this summer we actually had a session called Less Talk, and that’s exactly what it was Less Talk. I led that discussion only had about two questions because I just had two questions just to kind of lead the conversation. We at SASP wanted to provide a space for students to just talk about it.
REGGIE: And so for us not to be like the moderators or the facilitators, but actually just let the students voice their concerns and voice their opinions.
DAN: And two questions may be all that's needed and this conversation just takes off.
REGGIE: Dan, I don't even think I got to the second question.
DAN: Yeah. Well, you were recently recognized by the college with an award, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Champion award first. Congratulations.
REGGIE: Thank you, Dan.
DAN: What does that mean to, to be an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Champion?
REGGIE: I had no idea that I won the award. The president was just going through the award nominations and it kind of stunned me for a bit. I was just looking like, wait, that's my face. Oh, that's my name. And then they had a nice picture too. I was like, I didn't send that picture. They must have, they got it from the Black Male Summit. It was awesome to receive that recognition because I've only been at the college for a year and a couple of months. So that really made me feel amazing as a professional for my work to be recognized this early. Very humbling. And it was a really big push for me to continue to do the work that I do and to serve the students that I serve on campus. So it means it means a lot. And it makes me feel that my work is valued and appreciated. And it also shows me AACC’s dedication and commitment to diversity and inclusion.
DAN: It must be very validating.
DAN: So in that respect, how might others become champions as well?
REGGIE: That's a great question, Dan. I'm just, I'm taking my time on this cause I want somebody to hear this and apply these principles
DAN: I'm taking notes too. So take your time. Give us some pearls of wisdom.
REGGIE: I'm going to speak from my most salient identity right now. And that is me identify as an African American male. I would say one of the things that I will encourage allies to do, and not just for African American males, I'm just speaking for allies, LGBTQ+ community. If you are an ally for the Latinx community. If you are an ally for Asian community, whatever you feel that you are an ally for, don't take up space. There has been instances at previous events that I've been to and not necessarily on campus, But just previous events that I've been to in my career, where allies, they come into the space and they mean well, because they are social justice warriors and social justice advocates, and they want to show their support. But don't show so much support where you're taking up space and you're drowning out the voice of the people who you've come to support. So that’s the biggest thing.
There are so many other identities that I don't carry that I'm an ally to. And one of the things that I just make sure when I'm coming to support, I'm not drowning out the voice that I am saying that I'm coming to amplify. Because one of the things about allyship is you're coming in and you're amplifying the voiceless or that, that community that you feel doesn't have a force and you're coming in and you're amping up that. So that's the first thing.
Second, provide a safe space for allyship or whoever you're trying to assist or help. I may not necessarily understand culturally what they're going through, but I was looking at a video today, the difference between empathy and sympathy with allyship, I feel that you have to have a combination of both: the empathy to know that this may not necessarily affect me, but I can feel for what you're going on. And then the sympathy of, I need to just listen. I need to listen and kind of understand what this community is going through. And then third, I would say, if you are in a position of power, I need you to advocate for me, or I need you to advocate for the individuals that you feel doesn't have the same privilege as you. I need you to advocate for me behind closed doors. So I need you to advocate for me when you're meeting with people who may not necessarily understand, or if you're in that position of power to raise me up. Most importantly, I need you to advocate for me when I'm not in the room. So those, those are, those are my three.
DAN: Those are fantastic. And I, the thread I hear through all that is, is listening.
DAN: Don't drown out the voices, provide space to listen. And if you're, if you're going to be an advocate, whether behind closed doors and not listen, hear my voice and be an advocate. That's great. Great advice.
So for our podcast, our theme redefine. So typically with the students that you work with, how do you see them redefining themselves?
REGGIE: That's a great, that's a great question too. So I've had a busy 2020. In April. I completed my doctorate degree.
DAN: Wow. Congratulations. You've got … It’s been a busy year for you.
REGGIE: It’s been huge. It’s been a huge year.
So, I sent the email to one of the students I've been working with and she was able to see Dr. Reginald Stroble. And she said, Hey, can you give me a call? And she said, you know,” I didn't know you were working on your doctorate degree.” And I said, “yeah, I just finished. You know, it took me three years to complete, but I just finished it.” And she said to me, “I want to go get my doctorate degree now as well.”
REGGIE: And that was a, that was a surreal moment for me, because if she decides to go get it, that's creating a new legacy for her and her family. And that's the same legacy that I want to leave with my family. So, I will say students can redefine themselves by deciding and creating a legacy that they want to leave.
This is the first two-year institution that I worked for professionally. I'm also a graduate of a community college, J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. And the thing that I love about community college students … Because me coming from that four-year background, I never pushed a four-year institution on students. The thing that I do push is how do you want to define yourself? And if you're here now at these AACC, how do you want to redefine yourself? And what is the legacy and what is the impact that you want to leave? What is the career that you want to join or the career that you want to embark on that is going to give you the most positive impact on others? So that's how I would say that our students can be redefine themselves, so rediscovery, redefine, and deciding on what's the impact and Mark that they want to leave.
DAN: That's fantastic. And you're helping them along the way. So that's great stuff, Reggie, keep up the great work.
REGGIE: Thank you, Dan.
DAN: It has been great speaking you and thank you for all you're doing for our students in our community.
REGGIE: Thank you, Dan.
DAN: Take care and be well,
REGGIE: Alright. You too.
Reggie told us that one of the leading indicators of student success for underrepresented students is a sense of belonging. That’s probably true of areas outside of academia. What are some ways we can help?
Reggie gave us great advice for how to be better allies. The first was don’t drown out the voices you’re coming to support. The second, provide a safe space: be empathetic and listen. Third, if you’re in a position of power, advocate for those less privileged, when they’re not in the room.
When barriers are removed, new legacies can be created. If we were all willing to work toward that, what a gift to future generations that would be.
Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College. Our Executive Producer is Allison Baumbusch, our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte, and our Writer Amy Carr-Willard. Others who helped with this podcast include Amanda Behrens, Angie Hamlet, Ben Pierce, and Alicia Renehan.
Special thanks to Dr. Reginald Stroble.
Find show notes, how to subscribe, and other extras on our website aacc.edu/podcast. I’m your Host and Creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.