A UC Berkeley faculty member was on campus Wednesday to discuss his research on the positive impact Islamic teachings can have on educational achievement in black students.
Antwi Akom, a research associate at the UC Berkeley Institute for the Study of Social Change, discussed black achievement ideology on Wednesday at noon on the second floor of Ellison Hall. He was invited by sociology professor Howie Winant to give a lecture titled, “The Ghetto Poor and the Nation of Islam: Academic Achievement among the Educational Underclass.”
Winant described Akom as “a very exciting young black scholar. … He’s doing some of the best work out there on the experience of minority high school students and minority youth.”
Akom’s research concentrates on the impact that involvement in the Nation of Islam, or NOI, has on the academic achievement gap – known as “oppositional peer culture”- in a Philadelphia high school setting.
The academic achievement gap was attributed to the idea of an involuntary minority – the belief that people in racial minorities resist education and feel pressured to act according to the cultural beliefs of their groups.
“Oppositional culture explains involuntary minority disadvantage as the result of a culture that discourages academic effort by branding it as ‘acting white,’ leading students to resist schooling,” Akom said.
The teachings of the NOI encourage students to participate in their education, counteracting the effects of being an involuntary minority, he said.
Akom’s research focused on high school female black members of the NOI, whose study habits and self-image improved after being introduced to Islamic teachings.
“[This resulted] in the adoption of the kind of studious orientation to school that is usually demonstrated by voluntary immigrant groups,” Akom said.
The NOI teaches a black achievement ideology that embraces black power and self-help, originating from the idea that “blackness is ideal,” he said.
The NOI gave the students he studied cultural capital – the resources that members of a culture need to succeed – similar to what is typically available to people of the middle class, he said. For them, the teachings of NOI taught that in order to succeed they need not “act white” – they could succeed by taking pride in being black.
Akom’s work is very important, sociology graduate student Tim Mechlinski said.
“Doing research on the ethnographic level, which I think is lacking,” he said, “informs our understanding of what’s going on in a way that current research does not.”
Akom will also be a part of “Defining Diversity,” a panel discussion taking place Thursday at 4 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center.