What leadership looks like

As the UW鈥檚 Brotherhood Initiative grows 鈥 and now welcomes a counterpart Sisterhood Initiative 鈥 students of color like senior Noah Stanigar continue to soar.

Like every college freshman in fall 2019, Noah Stanigar had a first year that did not go as planned. The Jamaican-born, Las Vegas鈥搑aised undergrad says he had no idea what to expect from the 天美影视传媒. But things started to derail even before a pandemic forced classes online.

鈥淢y first quarter was hard,鈥 Stanigar, 鈥23, remembers. 鈥淭hat transition, moving from Las Vegas and getting acclimated to Washington, classes, and the environment 鈥 it was a lot to handle at first. Then, seeing barely anyone that looks like you, it sometimes drags you down emotionally. That was before I found a community.鈥

Stanigar鈥檚 college career could have ended as many do 鈥 economic struggles and other systemic barriers lead to Black men having the lowest graduation rates of any demographic group, a full 20% lower than white men. Instead, he found the (BI), a growing program aligned with the UW鈥檚 Race & Equity Initiative. Designed to provide a more inclusive learning community for men of color on campus, the Brotherhood Initiative offers cohort-based seminars and one-on-one mentorship.

With the BI鈥檚 support, Stanigar鈥檚 hard work, quiet confidence and earnest commitment to making a difference have served him well. The senior is now a double major in business (marketing and information systems) with Foster School honors. He鈥檚 a mentor through and a . And he鈥檚 deeply invested in giving back to the organization to which he attributes his success.

“What can we imagine as a better learning space for young men of color?”
Dr. Joe LottFounding Director, Brotherhood Initiative

Building the Brotherhood Initiative

Associate Professor of Education Joe Lott started teaching at the UW in 2007. But it wasn鈥檛 until an unarmed Trayvon Martin was shot in Florida 鈥 as Lott pondered the lives of his own young sons and a career ahead of him in academia 鈥 that he kept returning to this question: 鈥淲hat can we imagine as a better learning space for young men of color?鈥

鈥淚 just thought, before I have an unfortunate accident with the police, let me write down everything I can for my boys 鈥 a conceptual road map to navigate life,鈥 Lott says. He built the Brotherhood Initiative with a team of doctoral and postdoctoral students; it launched in 2016 with an inaugural cohort of about 30 men from underrepresented communities of color. The goal was to advance the lives of young men at the UW and illuminate both the obstacles and pathways to success. They gathered weekly to build community and create a safe space to learn about navigating the University and life in general, while creating a resource network and finding enrichment from academic, civic and leadership opportunities.

Now the Initiative is welcoming its sixth cohort 鈥 doubled in size to 60 students, selected based on applications and interviews.

By collecting quantitative and qualitative information, BI researchers are not only tracking how students are doing academically and outside of class 鈥 they鈥檙e aiming to improve curriculum, programs and services, making the BI even more effective with each new cohort.

So far, it鈥檚 working: The BI鈥檚 five-year graduation rate is currently 82%, virtually identical to that of male students not from underrepresented communities.

Put simply, Lott says, they refuse to let anyone fail. 鈥淲hen people are struggling, trying to leave, we will absolutely call their mothers,鈥 he says. 鈥淭hese young men are in an environment that wasn鈥檛 created for them. So we decode the environment and help them see the pathways to success based on who they are and who they want to be.鈥

Noah Stanigar

Stanigar found community on campus at the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center (ECC), pictured here.

Students in a Brotherhood Initiative cohort collaborate in a freshman seminar.

Students in a Brotherhood Initiative cohort collaborate in a freshman seminar.

Paul Metellus and a group of BI scholars enjoy a wet UW鈥揂SU football game.

Paul Metellus and a group of BI scholars enjoy a wet UW鈥揂SU football game.

To Stanigar, the heart of the program is Paul Metellus, the BI鈥檚 student success coordinator. He鈥檚 the pipeline to resources, the one writing the newsletters, an advocate, adviser, mentor, friend 鈥 he鈥檚 鈥渢he dude who鈥檚 carrying it on his back,鈥 says Stanigar.

Metellus builds rapport from the start by giving every new BI student his cell number. 鈥淚f they have a good relationship with me and really trust me,鈥 he says, 鈥渋t makes it easier to come to me when they鈥檙e stressed.鈥

That stress is real: Black men are more likely to be juggling full-time employment with classes, to be the first in their family to attend college, and to have no cushion of generational wealth. Metellus works with the students to overcome any obstacle 鈥 big or small 鈥 to reaching graduation.

Paul Metellus (far left) and Joe Lott (far right) celebrate the BI鈥檚 latest graduates at the 2022 graduation celebration.

Paul Metellus (far left) and Joe Lott (far right) celebrate the BI鈥檚 latest graduates at the 2022 graduation celebration.

鈥淚f there are life issues going on, that鈥檚 definitely impacting them academically,鈥 he says. Same for financial troubles. He cultivates connections all over campus so he can send students to not only the appropriate department but to a friendly face there. 鈥淚 always say, 鈥楾ake a deep breath, we鈥檒l get through this together.鈥欌

Metellus was integral in helping Stanigar get through that first year. 鈥淚t was my first midterm that got me,鈥 Stanigar says, describing a bad grade he received after inadvertently skipping a page of the exam. Then a discussion with an academic adviser left him feeling even more worried 鈥 鈥渓ike all was lost.鈥 Metellus helped him 鈥渂ecome levelheaded and realize everything was not going to fall apart,鈥 he recalls. 鈥淟earning that I was able to make mistakes in college really boosted my morale.鈥

Metellus says, 鈥淚鈥檓 really proud of Noah. He鈥檚 passionate about creating a space for men of color on campus to thrive and flourish the way he鈥檚 been able to thrive and flourish.鈥

The Sisterhood Initiative is “a campus space for women of color to feel seen and heard, where they can stand in their authenticity in every space.”
Dr. Rashida LoveDirector, Sisterhood Initiative

Sisterhood takes flight

This fall, the Sisterhood Initiative welcomes its first cohort of women of color. The program, led by Director Rashida Love, had originally planned to accept 30 students. Love got 63 applications. 鈥淚 made the decision pretty soon that I wasn鈥檛 going to cut people,鈥 Love says, with a smile despite having willingly doubled her workload. 鈥淚 can鈥檛 hear about what the Sisterhood Initiative would mean to them and then say, 鈥楴o, so sorry.鈥欌

Though women of color graduate at slightly higher rates than their male counterparts, Love is quick to point out that higher education wasn鈥檛 built to include any Black or Indigenous people. (The majority of U.S. colleges and universities were designed to educate affluent white men; it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that legislation finally opened up large-scale access for Black and Indigenous men and women.) Love had just finished her dissertation 鈥 on the experiences of Black women multicultural directors at predominantly white institutions 鈥 when she learned the UW was hiring to build out this program. It was a perfect match.

Members of the most recent Sisterhood Initiative cohort bond at an October retreat.

Members of the most recent Sisterhood Initiative cohort bond at an October retreat.

Love has helped build the Sisterhood Initiative 鈥渢o create a campus space for women of color to feel seen and heard, where they can stand in their authenticity in every space,鈥 she says. 鈥淭he goal is not to try to mimic the experience of white students but to create, to think about: What does leadership look like for us? Why can鈥檛 that be more powerful than the model that鈥檚 out there?鈥

Stanigar is all for the intersectionality brought forth by the Sisterhood Initiative 鈥 he hopes to see the Brotherhood Initiative鈥檚 message and resources amplified to all students of color. 鈥淎s a person, as a professional, as a student 鈥 there are a lot of things I wouldn鈥檛 have been involved with,鈥 he says, if not for the program. 鈥淓very little thing I鈥檝e earned or achieved, the Brotherhood Initiative has had an impact.鈥

Learn more about the Brotherhood Initiative

Brotherhood Initiative group photo featuring Joe Lott
Group photo of Brotherhood Initiative students

Originally published October 2022

What you care about can change the world

When you give to support the Brotherhood Initiative and Sisterhood Initiative, you can help students of color like Noah Stanigar find community and become leaders who make the UW and the world a better place, for generations to come.