Building Bonds and Helping Retention
Dressed in a short, pink pajama tunic and with her hair wrapped in a pink bandana, Tanisha, of the Oxygen network’s Bad Girls Club, banged cake pans together. It was a loud and foul-mouthed protest against castmates who disturbed her sleep.
Marian Muldrow with student Keana Holton during a discussion of images of black women on reality television programs.
The short video clip was also a pernicious stereotype of black women and a topic for discussion in Marian Muldrow’s English composition class.
As the students develop their writing and critical thinking skills, the 21 young women – all freshmen – faced Muldrow’s challenge: Who or what defines your reality? What is your reality?
It was a lively discussion – some of the students thought there was nothing wrong with a noisy in-kind reaction to being kept up all night. Others honed in on the problem of how black women are portrayed on television reality shows, noting that producers are looking for people who will get them high ratings.
“On these shows, these people have to apply. Not everybody in Atlanta would be that type of argumentative person,” Keana Holton, 18, said.
Producers “choose the few people who are like that,” said Holton, who graduated from North Springs Charter High School in Atlanta.
The class also watched clips of Nene Leakes, of Real Housewives of Atlanta, and discussed comedian Mo’Nique’s open marriage.
The students are members of the African-American Women Learning Community, which Muldrow started this year. The group joins nearly a dozen other learning communities already on the UWG campus.
Muldrow put together the program after she saw what happened to the young women she taught at Cobb County’s McEachern High School once they arrived on the college campus.
“Some of them were just ready to drop out of school. They were not trying to graduate to stay in school. Once they got to college they didn’t seem to have the same desire,” said Muldrow, who earned her bachelor’s, master’s and specialist in education degrees at UWG. She started teaching at UWG in the fall of 2007.
The learning community also comes from Muldrow’s own experience as an undergraduate – she rarely spoke in class or approached her professors afterward.
“My college experience would have been different with a learning community,” Muldrow said. “Obviously, I graduated. But I never had that experience of being able to bond. I want them to have a more enriching experience. I wanted them to have the most positive experience possible.”
The shared college experience will bond the young women, Muldrow said. Just a couple of weeks after the start of the semester the students talked, joked and shared stories as if they had known each other for years.
This term, her students will discuss and write about images of black women in other media, including in hip-hop lyrics. They will study Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and watch Chris Rock’s film, “Good Hair.”
In addition to the English composition class and UWG 1101 course, they take public speaking, world history and introduction to general psychology together. In the spring they will also take a group of classes together.
The learning community will “help with retention….As productive members of society and independent women, they should want to graduate,” Muldrow said.
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