What one university is doing to help black men find belonging on campus.

3 years ago

95-9. If this were a game score, who would be the winner? Obviously the team that scored 95 is the “winner” and the team that scored 9 are the “losers”. In 2012, Western Kentucky University (WKU) enrolled 95 black males. After four years at the institution only 9 of them graduated. After six years only 50% of them graduated. Not quite what you thought the 95-9 stood for, right? The question then becomes “WHY” are only 95 black males being admitted and only 9 graduating? Statistics show that a significant number of black male applicants come from low-income families and attend schools located in impoverished areas. School counselors are often not promoting nor assisting Black male students with college enrollment and attendance.


Even if a student gets admitted, they may choose not to attend because they cannot afford the cost of attendance and the other costs associated such as housing, books, meals, and other required fees. According to a study led by researchers at the University of California, these are all stressors associated with low enrollment rates.


So back to our 95. After successfully enrolling 95 black males on WKU’s campus, what do we do to retain and graduate them? Higher Education professional, Terrell Strayhorn wrote, “Black male undergraduates at PWIs tend to have less of a sense of belonging in college than their same-race male counterparts at HBCUs”. Often black males are first generational college students and have no clue how to navigate or “do” college. If they are not an athlete or involved in Greek life, there are few things that help. Black males cannot envision themselves on a campus where they do not see other black male students, faculty, and staff.


The Why Knot Us Black Male Initiative was established at Western Kentucky University to create a sense of belonging, enhance requirement efforts, increase enrollment, and increase graduation rates for the Black Male at WKU. Another primary focus is to improve faculty, staff, and student relationships. Since the program’s inception, the initiative has been successful in hosting two African American male networking luncheons, a black male leadership conference focusing on mental health and leadership, an event to decipher hip hop lyrics. Biweekly meetings are held to discuss this year’s Read and Lead book series– “The Other Wes Moore” by Wes Moore. Weekly, the students are recognized and admired on their “WHY KNOT Wednesday Wear”—the day the young men were their embroidered suits. In just seven months our males are collaborating with other organizations on campus as well as increasing the bond with each other. In just seven months, they can answer the question with confidence WHY KNOT US!

Dr. Martha Sales

Executive Director of WKU TRIO Programs and the WKU Intercultural Student Engagement Center (ISEC)
Martha Sales was born and raised in Franklin, Kentucky. She is married to Reverend Shawn Sales with whom she has a son, Seth, age nineteen, and a 14-year-old daughter, Kiah. Martha received her Bachelor of Science in Social Work with a Minor in African American Studies from Western Kentucky University. Since that time, she has also earned a Master of Arts in Counseling in Marriage and Family, an Educational Specialist Degree in Student Affairs, and a Women Studies Graduate Certificate, as well as a doctorate in Educational Leadership from WKU.

Martha currently serves as the Executive Director of the Western Kentucky University’s Intercultural Student Engagement Center and TRIO programs. These programs are designed to assist first generational and/or low income middle school, high school, college, adult and veteran participants with postsecondary enrollment, matriculation, and graduation.

To learn more about the programs at WKU that support equity-seeking and students from disadvantaged programs please visit here and here.