City Tech Documentary on Young Men of Color Premieres on February 29

February 21, 2012 | New York City College of Technology

Brooklyn, NY — How trauma experienced as normal by young men of color affects their participation in their college education is the focus of a new documentary having its premiere at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) on February 29, at 5 p.m., in the Namm Hall, Room 119, 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, the public may contact 718.260.5136.

The 30-minute documentary, A New Normal: Young Men of Color, Trauma, and Engagement in Learning, was funded by a grant from The City University of New York Diversity Projects Development Fund and filmed over the course of a year on location at City Tech and at Kingsborough Community College. Featured are 20 City Tech and Kingsborough students and Dr. Carlyle Van Thompson, acting dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education at Medgar Evers College.

The documentary was produced by the husband and wife team of Paul Schwartz, LCSW, MA, a City Tech crisis counselor, and his wife, Joni Schwartz, EdD, an assistant professor at LaGuardia Community College — a former research coordinator for City Tech’s CUNY Black Male Initiative (BMI) and former adjunct assistant professor at Kingsborough Community College. Independent filmmaker Richard Morse-Osborne, their godson, shot and directed the documentary.

Dr. Marcela Armoza, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at City Tech, describes

A New Normal: Young Men of Color, Trauma, and Engagement in Learning as “increasing our understanding of how to help our students grow and succeed. Burdened with psychological and socio-cultural inhibitors, the students are at first skeptical about counseling, but once they’re engaged, they report counseling to be beneficial.”

Cumulatively, the Schwartzes have close to 50 years’ experience working with college-age men of color. The film draws on a BMI Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) case study, Joni’s doctoral dissertation, Engaging Out-of-School Males in Learning, and several related research projects in which both Schwartzes have been involved.

Says Paul, “The impact of two experiences motivated me to make the film: a City Tech Conversations Group, where Sonja Jackson, dean of curriculum and instruction, led a series of discussions on the topic of “Teaching, Learning, Curriculum, and Diversity,” and Dr. Van Thompson’s book, Black Outlaws: Race, Law and Male Subjectivity in African American Literature and Culture.”

This documentary is most directly based on the findings of a one-year phenomenological study looking at engagement of young men of color in college. This study, as well as the documentary, is viewed from a Critical Race Theory (CRT) framework, which emphasizes the importance of the voices of people of color. CRT comes out of critical race legal theory and traditional civil rights law. As applied to educational scholarship, it focuses on the centrality of race and educational inequality. From this perspective, A New Normal is the young men’s “lived experiences” as they tell them.

The Schwartzes’ findings show that the young men perceived the trauma they experienced both in and out of school during their middle or high school years, at the hands of peers or teachers, from verbal abuse to violence, as an ongoing part of life that they must accept. The impact of these experiences may express itself in the classroom as absenteeism, lack of investment, emotional and physical distancing, verbally shutting down, hostility, apathy, perceived indifference and resistance.

Though initially the students believed that counseling wouldn’t make a difference, students who did participate in counseling found it helpful. Writing about traumatic experiences and engaging in group discussions with peers, whether in a classroom or counseling setting, proved therapeutic for them. Some commented on feeling relieved after expressing their emotions; one student wrote that he was grateful for “a forum to express my concerns about the hardships and struggles I face because of my race.”

Plans are underway for the documentary to be screened on several other CUNY campuses and in community settings; dates and times are to be determined. A New Normal also will be presented in October at this year’s American College Counseling Association (ACCA) National Conference in Orlando, FL. An article with the same title as the documentary is currently under peer review at the Journal of College Counseling.

Following the February 29 screening, Dr. Van Thompson and the young men will lead a large group discussion, after which small group discussions among students and faculty will continue over dinner in City Tech’s Janet Lefler Dining Room.

For information on future screenings, please contact Paul Schwartz at 718, 260.5136 or pschwartz@citytech.cuny.edu.

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.