Parents enrolling their teens in college classes were in for a surprise while scrolling through Lone Star College‘s Fall 2017 course catalog. You may have thought segregation was history, but REACH Academy (Realizing Educational Achievement and Creating Honors) is a program exclusively for “African American” students. Its goal is to help black students succeed academically and graduate. It’s an admirable cause, but not everyone feels this is the right way to go about supporting black students.
“It will fuel division because it is literally dividing up students according to their race,” says Amber Arcemont, who is enrolling her son and has taken many classes herself at Lone Star College. “It also makes an assumption that black kids have learning gaps.”
According to the Lone Star College REACH Academy website page, “Our purpose is to build a culture of excellence through academic and personal growth, to support successful academic progress, and strengthen career preparation though community building and mentorship.”
However, offering such a program exclusively to black students does seem to imply that school administrators believe a student’s skin color might be indicative of their ability to flourish academically. And, in a region as diverse as Houston, one wonders if they’re planning to offer similar courses to all the South American, European, Middle Eastern, and other demographics present in the Lone Star student body.
Segregation is not only offensive, but it’s also impractical and illegal.
“It is not legal to have race as a stipulation to receive any kind of educational assistance,” says Erica Kelley, Houston mother and 3rd Grade Reading and Writing Teacher for Aldine ISD. “I do see where there is a need to close the gap. The issue I would have is if they denied entrance into the program to someone simply because they aren’t black. I would like to know how they choose the students and the mentors.”
While the program application form does not ask students specifically about their race, the class description clearly states that it is “for African American students.” The page only has one photo, but the six students in it are exclusively black. Historically, Texas segregation and vile “Jim Crow laws” throughout the U.S. were systematically defunct in the 1950’s and 60’s. While Lone Star College’s intentions are certainly not to hold black students back, the effects of segregation, even under the pretense of special treatment, are not something to be taken lightly.
The program’s perks include “prerequisite English and math courses,” peer and faculty mentors, an annual leadership summit, personalized advising, and assistance transferring to a local university. It sounds like an awesome program, so why the segregation?
“What about other individuals of different races who could use the benefits of this program but feel left out?” asks Amber. “I am sure that Doctor McGee means well, but isn’t it his responsibility to look out for all the students, not just the ones who match his race?”
Dr. James McGee, who apparently spearheaded the program, was named Vice President of Instruction at Lone Star College’s Montgomery campus back in 2015. The professor has a lengthy list of educational accomplishments and teaching and administrative experience. Since 2011 he had served as the Dean of Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Elgin Community College in Illinois. Prior to that, he was an instructor and Dean of Mathematics, Education, Science, and Health at Kishwaukee College. Before that, Dr. McGee served as a Department Chair and instructor at Malcom X College in Chicago.
“The only thing I can think of is that they are trying to reach students in low income families who can’t afford private tutoring,” says Erica. “The school I teach at is a Title I school. A lot of the parents can’t afford the extra tutoring the students need. I do want to have a program like this, but it will be a tutorial center with fine arts included. It will be based on income and available for kids of all races.”
Lone Star College does offer tutoring to all students, and the fees associated are included in tuition. Their campuses throughout the Greater Houston area feature learning centers, libraries, career counseling, crisis counseling, transfer services, financial assistance, and even child care. It is unclear whether they offer faculty mentors for all students, or if that is an exclusive benefit of REACH Academy.