At the 2019 Black Graduation, Jenny Guerra asked members of a new club—Black Men of Whittier College (BMWC)—to stand and be recognized.
Craig Rogers ’20, a chemistry major, and Noah Humphrey ’20, a religious studies major, were among those who rose from their seats in Memorial Chapel. They stood facing their graduating Black peers, seated proudly at the stage. The primary goal of BMWC is exactly what was before Rogers and Humphrey: to see fellow Black students in gowns, with diplomas at hand and bright futures ahead. Soon, they’ll be on the stage themselves.
Rogers, the club president, knows college isn’t easy when you feel isolated—or worse, when you feel that you don’t belong. He wants his fellow Black men to feel like they’re not alone. The goal of BMWC is to increase the retention rate of Black students at Whittier and create a safe environment for them, with the shared goal of developing their minds and gaining a respectable reputation.
“I want to be able to help them find their path and show them that you belong here and show them that you have a purpose and that there is a long goal,” he said. Rogers found his stride at Whittier after joining the William Penn Society, running track, playing football, and getting involved with his professors’ research. He wants to help more of his Black peers enjoy their own enriching, on-campus experiences, as well.
Humphrey, too, hopes the group empowers students from a group that’s marginalized by society, and gives them the resources they need to succeed.
“In certain areas within life… Black men are not given the same resources as everybody else. We, as black men, are always expected to meet the same standards without the basic needs and resources supplied to us,” Humphrey said. “It’s basically running a race, but we along with other marginalized groups, specifically black men, have on backpacks.”
This fall, they’re excited to welcome more students to the group, which has about 25 regular attendees since it formed during spring semester. They meet in a classroom of the Science & Learning Center, where they enjoy a safe space to talk about life, discuss relevant issues, be open with each other, and learn about opportunities to thrive as students.
The club’s co-advisors, registrar John Hill and business administration professor Gary Gold, inspire the group as Black men who have achieved professional success. Gold has also personally helped members apply for fellowships, study abroad trips, internships, and other academic and professional opportunities.
“Of course, I deem it as a part of my faculty responsibilities to undertake these same efforts for all qualified students, as that is my ‘calling’; indeed it is the source of my greatest joy,” Gold said. “But it is particularly rewarding to encourage and support students who hitherto have not been exposed to such opportunities. I am hopeful I can do more as an advisor, mentor and role model for these young men of great future promise.”
Joining the club has changed Hakim Williams’ ’21 experience on campus. True to its mission, it introduced the history major, who’s also pursuing a minor in studio art, to professional development opportunities he wasn’t aware of before. He’s also enjoyed the brotherhood of spending time with other young Black men at Whittier.
“Honestly, joining the club was the best thing for me,” Williams said.
After getting involved with BMWC, Humphrey has seen a change in his peers when he sees them around campus. He and his fellow members want to see that energy and momentum carry well beyond next year. They talk about wanting to return years from now to see the club still thriving.
“I’m definitely going to be coming back five, six years from now telling them about my experiences in life and what this club did for me,” Humphrey said.
Gold hopes to see the club became an invaluable resource that provides a space for unfettered dialogue and enhances its members’ quality of campus life.
“Inevitably, these efforts should augment the support, and other programs and activities, designed directly or indirectly to favorably impact retention rates of Black male students at Whittier College,” Gold said. “I personally neither desire, nor would I be satisfied with, a lesser challenge.”
There are plans to start a similar group, Black Women of Whittier College, where they can also have a space to discuss issues relevant to them and build a circle of trust.