“My parents wanted to make sure I knew a lot about my history as an African American,” says Charles Martin-Stanley II. “So when I was a young child, most children had coloring books. I had books about important African Americans.”
Those early lessons kindled a passion for social justice for people of color. “What’s hardest for me,” Martin-Stanley II says, “is being aware of white privilege and things that I’ll have to go through that other people won’t and things that I’ll have to do that other people won’t have to. For example, I’ve had a police officer stop me for no reason as I was going to my house” in Onalaska, Wis. “I’m interested in racial hierarchies and the past, and I know we’re trying to get past that, but I think the only way to do that is to talk about it. When we can have those difficult conversations, we’ll be better able to grow from them.”
When Martin-Stanley II, a sociology major and basketball player, heard about Luther’s collaborative summer research grants, he applied to work with professor of sociology Char Kunkel. He was interested in exploring retention rates among students of color within the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM).
He explains, “I wanted to do a project on something personal to me, but also on something Luther cared about and would want to learn about, and I thought that if we focused on why students of color stay at schools like Luther, that would give us room to talk about the problem” of lower retention rates among minority students. They researched and analyzed survey results from three ACM schools, presenting their findings at three conferences this spring.
Martin-Stanley II, who entered the student affairs administration master’s program at UW–La Crosse in fall 2014, says, “I want to do behind-the-scenes work and be a mentor to students of color having problems. I strongly believe that once you receive education in life, you should give it back to other people. For me, that means getting involved in higher education. And for me, having gone through that process, that means helping students of color.”