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RMU to Launch Research Center to Study Success Among Black Men

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pittsburgh – The Heinz Endowments has awarded Robert Morris University a $900,000 grant to create and endow a research center that will study the factors that set successful African American men apart and build models to allow others to emulate this achievement.

In addition to the grant from the Endowments, Robert Morris plans to raise an additional $900,000 to fund the RMU Research Center on Black Male Educational Student Success. Professor of Communication Rex Crawley, the assistant dean of the School of Communications and Information Systems, will be the chair of the new research center at RMU – the first endowed chair and the second endowed research center at Robert Morris. The first was the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management.

“There is a growing national problem of young African American males not pursuing a college degree and being successful. We’re trying to identify those factors which foster that success,” said RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. “We are grateful and commend the Heinz Endowments for focusing on this issue.”

Crawley said the problems facing black men are well-documented: A 2010 College Board report found that black men are far less likely than their female or white counterparts to attend college or even finish high school. The U.S. unemployment rate among black men is currently 14.2 percent, compared to 8.2 percent for the nation as a whole, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But while many researchers have examined the pathologies that confront African American communities and the particular obstacles facing young black men, few have isolated the characteristics in those who have achieved educational and economic success, according to Crawley. That’s where RMU’s research center steps in. Its work will include longitudinal studies to track the experiences of black men at every level of the educational system in order to produce successful models of black achievement.

“This will position us as a national leader. My goal is that Robert Morris becomes the definitive resource for information on the positive black-male experience in the United States,” said Crawley, who also leads RMU’s Council on Institutional Equity.

The concept for this research center grew out of Crawley’s work with the Black Male Leadership Development Initiative (BMLDI), which also is supported by the Heinz Endowments in partnership with the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Each year, approximately 75 to 100 black teenage males participate in the program, which includes a week-long stay at RMU where the young men learn communication and leadership skills and are encouraged to pursue their education.

Crawley worked with the Urban League to transform the BMLDI from a one-day seminar to a rigorous, year-long program that includes activities and educational programming on weekends throughout the year, culminating in a graduation ceremony each spring. The BMLDI also is funded through the Buhl Foundation.

Crawley received a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in intercultural communications from Ohio University. His research focuses on the experiences of African American men and black masculinity as a social construct. He is the senior vice polemarch for the East Central Province of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and board member of the August Wilson Arts and Cultural Center, among the civic groups with whom he is active.

At RMU Crawley helped launch the Black Male Excellence Network to improve academic achievement by black male students at Robert Morris. This initiative grew out of his concern that black male students were far less likely than their female counterparts to assume positions of leadership on campus.

“We’re very good at helping to identify students who have talent but have not been able to exercise that talent yet. This fits right into our mission,” said Dell’Omo.

Given the economic challenges that confront the United States, the nation simply can’t afford to allow any segment of society to fall so far behind, said Dell’Omo. “Are we going to have an educated workforce that will drive our economy? Well, if you do, you have to include everyone.”

The Heinz Endowments supports efforts to make southwestern Pennsylvania a premier place to live and work, a center of learning and educational excellence, and a region that embraces diversity and inclusion.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.