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Men Valuing Progress (MVP), a new student support group at West Valley College, is providing guidance, direction and support to male students as a way of increasing retention, participation and graduation of underrepresented men at the college. The group meets weekly to discuss issues that impact academic and personal success.

“This is an academic institution, but if you have personal issues going on and you don’t deal with them, the academics are definitely going to suffer,” said Lee Rodriguez, retention specialist with WVC’s Student Support Services/TRIO Program and facilitator of MVP. “You’re not living on campus, you have to go back to wherever you’re from and face those same issues.”

The group, which began in March, has more than 30 members who come from a range of backgrounds. Participants include veterans, former gang members, formerly incarcerated men who are now students, student leaders and honors students. All are welcome, said Rodriguez, as long as they have a desire to grow and make positive changes in their lives.

Recent meeting topics have focused on racism and stereotypes, lack of self-worth, overcoming procrastination and community building. No matter the topic, the aim remains the same – create an informal, welcoming atmosphere where the men feel comfortable sharing feelings rather than keeping them bottled up.

“That’s the power of this group,” said Lynel Gardner, a performance artist studying communications and anthropology at WVC. “We can say, ‘Dude, why are you so down? What’s going on?’ Where else are they going to open up? You’ve got to open up somewhere.”

The group’s strength extends beyond the meetings. Not only does MVP connect the men to other campus resources, but members also have connected each other with jobs and community resources.

Above all, the men serve as a support network for each other as they navigate college and their personal lives. Rodriguez said it’s not uncommon to see them hanging out together outside of meetings and actively seeking each other out when they need help or advice on different personal issues.

“Ultimately if you’re not successful in your life,” Rodriguez said, “it’s going to be difficult to be successful in college.”