Civil Rights Legal Scholar Elliott Dawes Appointed Director Of CUNY’s Black Male Initiative Institute

Elliott Dawes, a legal scholar with a background in civil rights litigation and the teaching of race relations at the University level, has been named Executive Director of the City University of New York’s Black Male Initiative Institute.

The Black Male Initiative is a new University program that intends to set a national example, developing programs and strategies to help counter one of the most serious crises facing American cities – distressingly high dropout, unemployment and incarceration rates among African-American men.

The Initiative is part of CUNY’s overall commitment to diversity at the University, including the improvement of representation from other underrepresented groups.

Dawes most recently was Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs at Hofstra Law School. In addition to his extensive legal work, which has included working with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, Dawes has taught in the New York City public school system, and was a professor of African American Studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of CUNY.

He received his Juris Doctor from New York University Law School and his Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University.

“The five years that I spent as an Associate Professor in the African American Studies Department at John Jay College were the most rewarding years of my professional life,” Dawes told the CUNY Board of Trustees, which confirmed his hiring in late November.

“The creation of the BMI program represents CUNY’s continued commitment to diversity and equal opportunity in higher education. Through the BMI program, I hope to work closely with CUNY administrators, faculty, students, staff, and many others throughout New York City to develop strategies to increase the enrollment of students from groups that are underrepresented in higher education.”

Selma Botman, Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost, said that with Dawes’s hiring the University will continue moving forward with its Black Male Initiative plan as developed by a task force of CUNY scholars and administrators and approved by Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and the Board of Trustees.

“We are deeply pleased to have someone of his commitment to social justice and scholarly pursuits working with us in this very important area,” said Botman.

“Executive Director Elliott Dawes will begin to implement the well-thought-out recommendations of the Task Force. He will build upon the deep thinking that has been done so far, and will come up with fresh ideas and plans of action.

“As the largest public urban university in the country, in the media capital of the world, we feel an obligation to make a significant contribution in this arena. We intend to be part of a solution,” she continued.

The Black Male Initiative, a multi-faceted plan for addressing the issue of the African-American male in its many manifestations, was developed by a Task Force of scholars and administrators, who responded to a call for action by CUNY Chancellor Goldstein, who proposed the Initiative in the University’s Master Plan adopted by the Board of Trustees.

“CUNY is uniquely suited to play this role,” the Task Force said in its 90-page report.

“Not only does CUNY educate and train thousands of teachers, managers, professionals, and leaders; it is an engine of economic growth and the generator of ideas and new knowledge.”

The pioneer in the effort to draw attention to the plight of the black male was a CUNY institution, Medgar Evers College, located in Central Brooklyn. The college several years ago created a Center for Male Development and Empowerment, which through counseling and other means has tried to ease the social ills affecting young men in its nearby communities, which are largely black.

In keeping with its mission of educating New Yorkers of modest means, CUNY’s BMI program seeks to attract African-American males and other under-represented groups to its 19 campuses, and look for innovative ways of keeping them there through graduation. The University intends to apply strategies that prove successful to enhance recruitment and success of other populations.

The University, through the program, will build upon its relationships with the city Department of Education and its individual schools, many of which already have been working with CUNY to boost college attendance rates.

“CUNY must strengthen the school-to-college pipeline to enable black male students to move into college,” the Task Force has said.

“We are convinced that far too many young black men are being denied the opportunity to go on to success in college simply because their potential for academic achievement is unrecognized, and even actively discouraged as early as elementary school…”

In addition to teaching at John Jay, BMI Executive Director Dawes has taught in recent years at Thomas Jefferson and Franklin K. Lane High Schools, both of them public schools located in Brooklyn.

CUNY sees its mission as going beyond providing the chance to earn a college degree. It believes that it must use its resources to help remedy the social problems existing beyond the walls of its colleges.

For example, through its “workforce development” programs – in which its colleges train prospective employees and sharpen skills of current workers – CUNY seeks to reduce the high rates of unemployment noted by the BMI Task Force.

“The University must . . . provide support for black males who are not college bound to obtain meaningful employment,” the Task Force said.

The Task Force noted that CUNY already offers “extensive workforce development to tens of thousands of New York City residents each year,” through continuing education programs, adult literacy programs and other training initiatives for non degree-seeking students.

On related issues, such as incarceration, CUNY has been making notable progress in recent years. For example, its John Jay College has long studied the issue of incarceration rates and recidivism. Its president Jeremy Travis, is an expert on the topic.

CUNY wants a wider and deeper focus on those and other problems. “The Task Force believes that the University can help to reduce the likelihood of many black males spending years in prison,” according to the BMI report.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university: eleven senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College, the Graduate Center, the Graduate School of Journalism, the Law School, the School of Professional Studies and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The University serves more than 226,000 degree-credit students and 230,000 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 280 high schools throughout the five boroughs of the City of New York. The University has launched an on-line baccalaureate degree through the School of Professional Studies, and a new Teacher Academy offering free tuition for highly motivated mathematics and science majors who seek teaching careers in the city’s public schools.