Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

Men of Color Program provides key guidance for under-served students

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Mak and Jorge chat.

Jorge Cruz (left) said leaders of color like Mak Porotesano have been critical to his academic success at PCC.

It wasn’t easy for Jorge Cruz growing up in North Portland in the early 1990s.

“Poverty and real-life struggles were all around me,” Cruz recalled. “You name it and I have probably experienced it, witnessed it or know someone who has. From playing with syringe needles at Unthank Park as kids or witnessing drive-by shootings or being chased through the neighborhood because of the color of my t-shirt; just being alive today is a huge blessing. I want to take full advantage of that.”

Cruz, who graduated from Jefferson High School, started his PCC journey in 2008 to finally get away from those hazards and build a productive life. However, he had to put school on pause for family reasons. Fast forward a decade later to 2019, Cruz felt it was time to make his PCC return. Today, he said he’s more mature and is looking to build a great career in social work.

The 35-year-old credits the innovative support system of PCC’s Men of Color Leadership Program for his success this time around. The PCC program, which is part of the Sylvania Campus’ Multicultural Center, combines college credit courses with student development resources led by staff and faculty of color. Students like Cruz earn transferable tuition-free credits while building knowledge and skills around academic success and social justice.

The program is a key part of PCC’s Yes to Equitable Student Success initiative where specific practices and policies help reduce opportunity gaps for under-served student populations.

Jorge Cruz sitting.
Men of Color Program
    • This support program combines college credit courses with student development resources – all led by staff and faculty of color.
    • Students earn transferable tuition-free credits, as well as build knowledge and skills around academic success, wellness, and social issues.

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“I found myself sharing experiences and stories with other men of color who had similar experiences and struggles,” said Cruz, who just finished his cohort this year. “This was an ideal situation for someone like me who has been out of the classroom and stepping back in as an adult learner. It was also refreshing to have men of color leading, teaching and guiding us. The experience was impactful.”

Led by co-coordinators Dr. Clifford Meeks and Mak Porotesano, the program supports between 15-20 students per term. Students in the program earn transferable tuition-free credits in “Career and Life Planning” and “Exploring Identity & Diversity” courses, as well as build knowledge and skills around academic success, wellness, and social issues.

“It was implemented 12 years ago as a result of the research that PCC had done, which indicated male students of color were not performing at the same level as their peers for a variety of different reasons,” Dr. Meeks said. “And so the college wanted to make sure that there was a program that supported efforts to help bring up the success rate for male students of color.”

The program is taking on new importance in light of the recent racial equity movement gripping the United States and the world. Porotesano said the program will continue to be a beacon of education and support for Black, Indigenious and People of Color (BIPOC).

“The push for anti-racist and BIPOC support has always been the reason our programs existed,” he explained. “Folks are now just waking up to the inequities that men of color and other identities face in the education system.”

As for Cruz, he is working on his transfer degree to Portland State University with the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in Social Work to make an impact in his community. He said the Men of Color Leadership Program can make a huge difference for any student of color, especially as the country moves toward better racial equity.

“In one word, it’s ‘critical,’” Cruz said. “It is so important to have a program designed specifically for men of color. The discussions we had really challenged my way of thinking and how to reflect.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Public Relations Manager at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic, Wo... more »