Giving a voice to higher ed barriers

Jan 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Campus News, Issue, January 15, 2009, September 18, 2008

Creighton’s documentary explores minority opinions on education

Trina Creighton is giving black men a voice that is helping others understand social stigmas attached to higher education.

Inspired by her graduate thesis, Creighton – a broadcasting lecturer in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications – has created a documentary that features 10 black men from North Omaha talking about their education paths. Four of the individuals are enrolled at UNL, another graduated in August, and the other five remain in Omaha (two are in prison).

Creighton has presented the documentary, “The Academic Achievement Gap: We Do Better When We Know Better,” to groups in Lincoln and Omaha, both on and off campus. She purposefully left the documentary raw, allowing the young men to talk in their own words about their opinions on higher education.

Trina Creighton
RESEARCH PROJECT – Trina Creighton, lecturer in broadcasting, sits at a news desk in an Andersen Hall studio. Inspired by her graduate thesis, Creighton created a documentary that examines the social stigma of higher education among black men.

“I wanted people to hear about this from the mouths of the young black men who live in this community,” said Creighton. “I read all the research when I was preparing my thesis. But I became frustrated because it all came from people who did not live in the environments they were talking about.

“This part of the community simply did not have a voice.”

Forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech about equality between races, earning a college education remains a difficult task for the majority of blacks – with a particularly strong social stigma among black men.

According to the 2007 Minorities in Higher Education report by the American Council on Education (which used data from 2005), only 28 percent of black men and 37 percent of black women between ages 18 and 24 were enrolled in college. Among white counterparts, those percentages are 40 and 45, respectively.

As a young girl, Creighton loved reading and writing. She remembers those interests drawing questions about why she was “being white.”

“The education stigma among the black community is something that I experienced as a young girl and it continues today” said Creighton. “It’s something that really baffles me – and it inspired me to move forward with this documentary.”

Documentary host John Beasley
DOCUMENTARY HOST – Actor John Beasley, an Omaha native, is the host of Trina Creighton’s documentary. Rick Alloway, assistant professor of broadcasting, is narrator. Creighton shot and edited the documentary with the assistance of UNL students.

Creighton worked with UNL’s Institutional Review Board to define how the project would be completed and developed a list of nine questions asked to each of the 10 individuals. Topics of the questions centered on the academic achievement gap, racism, discrimination, poverty, peer pressure, the threat of “acting white,” teaching pedagogy, family structure, self esteem and self-motivation.

After completing the first two interviews with two men not in college, Creighton had a difficult time moving forward.

“I was logging tapes and it really depressed me,” Creighton said. “I’m a black woman with a son and daughter who thought she knew what was going on with young black people. I was embarrassed and horrified at what I didn’t know.”

She found the interviewees had a lack of role models, a wrong definition of what is healthy, and did not believe someone cared for them unconditionally.

Jerrid, an 18-year-old serving a prison term for robbery and use of a weapon, summed up most of what Creighton found. He lacked a father figure in the home and got involved with gangs as he felt no one cared for him. Jerrid said the gangs provided a sense of family.

“I used to think school was a good thing, a place where I could get an education and there were girls there,” Jerrid said. “After a while, I figured I could get a better education on the streets, that school can’t teach me how to live.”

While many men and women from North Omaha strive for success, Cameron, one of the UNL students, said the road can be especially difficult because of feelings within the community.

“The African-American race is like a bucket of crabs,” Cameron said. “That’s because, when we see someone doing something positive or doing something right, we pull them back down again.”

Creighton said self-motivation and family support were the primary reasons the five young men came to UNL.

“Out of the five here on campus, three grew up with fathers in the home,” Creighton said. “The other two did not. However, those two had very strong sisters who pushed them to get an education.”

The majority of the five mentioned they were getting an education to help their families.

The campus group also voiced a number of stories that could have drawn them into a life of violence instead of education.

Melvin, an 18-year-old enrolled at UNL, said he had his “bad years” but received clarity when a gun was held to his head.

“I got kidnapped at around 13 or 14 and had a gun held to my head and all that,” said Melvin. “I thought, ‘What am I doing? Why am I here? What brought me to this situation? Why am I doing this?’ Luckily I had someone looking over me, the Lord or someone, and they just let me go. I went home and told everyone that I was done with the gang.

“My mom and dad were like, ‘there’s no other way to go but college.'”

The five from UNL continue to venture home. While they avoid being dragged back down, they also try to plant seeds that college is attainable – and cool.

“My biggest fear was that I could never get out,” said Erick in the documentary. “Now, I go home and walk around hoping people ask me where I’ve been. I get ecstatic when kids run up to me and I get to tell them that I’ve been to college.

“I make sure to tell them to stay out of the gang life. And, that if I can get out, so can they.”

When she shows the video to groups, Creighton said the reaction is nearly the same every time.

“It’s kind of like getting a slap in the face,” she said. “People sit quiet for a few minutes, then the questions start coming.”

Stemming from the documentary, Creighton has started to consult with Building Bright Futures, an Omaha organization working to create educational excellence and equity. She is also planning other documentaries.

“I would love to do one about the fathers of these kids,” said Creighton. “And, I’ve already started to work on another one about single fathers caring for their children.”

Creighton continues to show “The Academic Achievement Gap” documentary to groups. For more information, or to arrange a viewing, contact Creighton at or 472-4796.

— Story and photo by Troy Fedderson, University Communications.

Read it • See it • Hear it

Immigration Explored

Watch Luis Peon-Cassanova, an assistant professor of advertising, discuss his immigration documentary, “We the People: An American Dream and Nightmare.”

Video link

Professional projects

Other recent documentaries (not including those by Trina Creighton and Luis Peon-Cassanova) produced by UNL faculty in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications include:

“Exploring the Wild Kingdom”
By Barney McCoy and Bruce Mitchell

A documentary that examined the impact of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom television show, which reached 34 million viewers each week. Produced in collaboration with NET Television, it has aired several times on Nebraska Public Television.

“They Could Really Play the Game”
By Barney McCoy

A documentary about Bevo Francis, a basketball coach that led the Rio Grande College Redmen to a 39-0 record in 1952. Premieres at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.

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