Starting out as a transfer student in his junior year, senior and Brother to Brother (B2B) President Teofilo Barbalho struggled to find his social footing early on in his time at FSU.
“I was very heavily involved at UMass Dartmouth, my previous school. Coming in, I was just lost for the first few couple of weeks,” he said.
Just at the beginning of his college career, freshman and now sophomore B2B Vice President Miguel Arias was aiming to take his “first initial step onto the campus community.”
Although they both were at completely different points in their college journeys, they shared a common desire – they wanted to be a part of a community in which they felt connected.
So when then-senior Fernando Rodriguez invited them to be among the first members of his yet-to-be-official club aimed at combating FSU’s low graduation and retention rate for men of color, each of them gladly accepted.
Rodriguez says B2B is built on the idea of sticking together.
Members of B2B serve as mentors for one another, each of them driving the other to succeed in all their collegiate and post-grad endeavors.
“We want to create a community of support and acceptance, and just brutal honesty of our experiences on campus,” Rodriguez said.
At its inception, B2B was a collaborative effort between Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston, Rodriguez and then-senior Beni Arias.
According to Huddleston, when analyzing the four-year graduation rate of FSU students who enrolled in fall 2011, a 5 percent achievement gap can be seen when comparing the men of color graduation rate to the rest of the student body.
Nationally, Huddleston said the six-year graduation rate at public colleges and universities for African American men is 33.3 percent. For Latino men, it’s 38.4 percent. Overall, it’s 48.1 percent.
B2B aims to be the catalyst that helps close the graduation gap between men of color at FSU and their classmates, Huddleston explained.
“Unfortunately, the data shows that men of color, particularly African American and Latino men in college, persist in and graduate from college at lower rates than all other groups, which has caused achievement gaps,” Huddleston said. “The research also shows that one of the most effective ways to overcome these gaps is to develop initiatives like B2B that focus in helping enhance a sense of belonging and increasing academic success through empowerment and community building.”
Although Huddleston proposed the idea of the club to Rodriguez and Arias, all the club’s activities are student-led.
“B2B holds weekly meetings for organization and planning, but also to engage in dialogue and intellectual debate on a variety of topics, including national and global issues, social justice and personal and professional development,” Huddleston said.
Whether from their sponsored King of The Court three-on-three Basketball tournament they had last semester, to their weekly meetings in the Center for Inclusive Excellence, each meet up is meant to help strengthen the bonds among the members.
Barbalho said, “One of the first things we do is try to create a strong social group. One of the main things that keep people in college is when they feel either connected to that institution or to the people there.”
Starting this coming Monday, the club is hosting a series of events in a week they’ve titled “Brother 2 Brother Interest Week.”
Beginning the week with a kick-off collaboration event with FSU club Motivation. Intersectionality. Solidarity. Sisterhood (MISS) and ending it with a Laser Tag party at a LazerCraze, the activities are aimed to attract as many new members as possible.
“We want to create an atmosphere where everyone is relaxed, while also getting to know who we are,” Barbalho said.
Although B2B’s initial founding members are of African-American and Latino descent, Arias wants to emphasize that everyone is welcome to be a part of the B2B community.
“We always stress that in order for our group to succeed on this campus, and to succeed in this community, we have to have different faces,” Arias said. “Anyone can join. Any group of color that has a mission needs allies to succeed.”