As director of Multicultural Affairs
, Jame’l Hodges’ office walls are covered with photos of many of the young men and women of color who have passed through the doors of Lehigh. But he wasn’t seeing as much togetherness out on campus.
“We noticed our men of color, in particular, separated by different activities—athletes, fraternities, and some with no strong social network,” Hodges says. “We wondered what would be a good way to bridge the gap and create more of a brotherhood.”
At the same time, Hodges’ knew from his doctoral research that many men of color face unique challenges at college. Research indicates that African-American men are attending and graduating from college at much lower rates than other ethnic groups nationally. While the problem is multi-faceted, Hodges believes that he and other men of color on campus are in a position to provide mentorship and improve retention rates.
These are just a few of the reasons Hodges and a former colleague formed the Men of Color Alliance (MOCA) in the fall of 2009.
“We started by sending e-mails to about 15 or 20 students,” Hodges says. “At the first meeting, we tried to get a sense of their needs. We heard consistently that our male students of color wanted mentors, role models on campus who understood where they were coming from.”Creating a legacy
Today, there are nearly 70 students on the MOCA roster, and meetings regularly crowd the Multicultural Affairs lounge, better known as the M-Room. Monthly gatherings focus on topics ranging from taking advantage of professors’ office hours to tying the perfect Windsor knot.
So it’s not surprising to find Greg Martin, a senior political science major, and Jovan Campbell, a first-year student from New Jersey, in the M-Room discussing the dress code for an upcoming event at which MOCA would usher. Campbell and Martin sat down to talk about what MOCA has meant to them.
Martin has been involved with MOCA since its start. The group, he says, has provided not only a kinship with other men on campus, but also an opportunity to flex his leadership skills. “I organized a MOCA team for the annual Turkey Trot race and got involved in the Martin Luther King week activities,” Martin says. “I’m hoping to create a legacy so that others, like Jovan, can take over after I graduate.”
Campbell grew up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, but was one of a few minority students at his private high school. He heard about MOCA from Martin during the Multicultural Affairs program, “The Real World,” one of a number of Prelusion events for first-year students.
“My first MOCA meeting, I could tell it was a really welcoming environment,” he says. While his diverse experiences provided him with a comfort level at Lehigh, he says, “MOCA is really needed. Not everyone is like me in having experienced a range of situations. MOCA helps students of color feel connected to a brotherhood of guys like us, but also feel more connected to the campus community as a whole.”
Hodges is excited about the future of MOCA. “Students are bringing other students in now. We’re providing peer relationships where the students lift each other up. We’re also seeing more involvement from our Latino and Asian students.”
While it’s too early to say if MOCA is having a direct impact on retention rates, Martin and Campbell agree that MOCA has become an important part of the Lehigh experience for a growing number of men.
“Students are taking ownership of the group,” Martin says. “Jame’l and others have put the template out there and now we communicate with each other, empowering each other to go out and form even more relationships.”
“MOCA is here to stay,” adds Campbell.