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Representation Matters: Providing A Diversity of College and Career Models and Voices

Providing diverse experiences, resources and connections to role models can bring tremendous value to college and career exploration for students.

SchooLinks Staff
SchooLinks Staff

Feb 16, 2022

Each February, we celebrate Black History Month to bring attention to and honor the contributions of black Americans to the United States across time and domains. It also creates a wonderful opportunity for educators and counselors to reflect on and evaluate current practices to ensure they are providing a diversity of models, experiences, and resources for their students. This is especially critical as educators and counselors support students in their postsecondary planning in order to provide an open forum for exploration where student possibilities are not constrained by historical limitations or preconceived stereotypes. 

Supporting Students Of Color In Their College And Career Exploration

In order for college and career planning to be truly effective, all students need to have role models that they can see themselves in across the full spectrum of college and career pathways. Unfortunately, minority representation across many professional fields has been limited by structural and historical inequities. This often manifests itself in various ways in contemporary college and career readiness practices. It is common to find disproportionate enrollment of white students within college preparatory pathway classes or overrepresentation of white professionals at career fairs, presentations, and even in informational materials. This lack of representation can lead to students of color not seeing those pathways as possible or accessible to them.

Counselors and educators can bring tremendous value to college and career exploration by ensuring that they facilitate diverse experiences for all students, provide opportunities to connect with career or college role models from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and highlight resources specifically geared toward students of color.

Expand Access to College Preparatory Classes: Regularly monitor data on class enrollments to ensure that the classes reflect the diversity of the student body. Take action, when necessary, to open pathways to more students. Consider how to talk with all students about available options and ensure that they understand how their course selection in high school will impact their 4-year college plan. Make sure there are school resources in place to support students in these challenging classes. And, partner with middle school counselors to help encourage a diversity of students to take advanced classes and to educate students on how middle school course selection can impact longer term post-secondary success. 

Spotlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): College and career fairs are some of the first steps students take in considering postsecondary options. In planning these events, counselors can ensure that HBCUs are included at prominent locations at college fairs and are given platforms to present to and connect with students. Counselors and teachers can highlight successful alumni of HBCUs (e.g., Kamala Harris, Langston Hughes, Spike Lee, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Toni Morrison). And, if schools are planning college visit trips, counselors can be sure to include HBCUs among the campuses visited. This resource guide from the United Negro College Fund provides information on HBCUs, scholarship options, and other key facts. HBCU First is an organization whose mission is to increase college success and career access for black youth. Their site offers a wide swath of resources for mentoring opportunities, career conversations, and other tools for students considering their college and career pathways.

Partner with Black Professional Organizations: In planning for career fairs or career talks, consider reaching out to black professional organizations to schedule in-person or virtual speakers or to connect students with potential mentors. From the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA), to the Association of Black Gastroenterologists and Hepatologists (ABGH) to the National Association for Black Veterinarians (NABV), there are numerous organizations and associations that can offer valuable resources and role models as students explore their postsecondary options. 

Connect Students With Recent Alumni or Students from Local Colleges: Consider offering students opportunities to talk with and learn from individuals still early in their college and career trajectories. Finding ways for students to hear from those who have recently navigated these postsecondary questions and challenges can be a critical step in their own planning. Find ways to facilitate conversations about issues of race and equity in colleges and universities as part of these connections. Counselors might connect with a Black Student Union group from a local college to provide ongoing mentorship opportunities for current students of color. These opportunities give students important insights and relatable information and advice that is relevant to their current decision-making and thinking.

Beyond February

This work is so important. Every student deserves to identify with career role models and to see open and supported paths as they look to the future. When counselors and educators are able to expand opportunities and conceptions, they help students to truly believe that their dreams are possible and upend historical stereotypes that have long stood in the way of students reaching their full potential. 

It is vital to use these lessons well beyond the month of February. Counselors can and should use this month as an opportunity to reflect and consider their overall approach to college and career planning to ensure that their policies and practices are inclusive, equitable, and fully representative and supportive of the entire student body.

Promoting equity and getting students access to these resources is critical to every student achieving postsecondary success. SchooLinks' features and tools provide access to resources to help you, help students succeed.

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