The Relationship Project

A Partnership with the Office of Black Male Student Achievement, Minneapolis Public Schools

Professor Bill Doherty collaborated with FSoS doctoral candidate Cory Yeager on this project with 17 Black male high school students at South High School beginning in 2015. The students’ goals included:

  • To achieve more academic success through improving relationships with teachers and young women, and
  • To spread what they learned to other Black male students at South and beyond.

The group initially generated a statement of “How We Work Together:”

  • We focus on what we can do ourselves, on our end, to improve relationships with teachers and young women. We go first in making changes.
  • We take time to go deep.
  • We think big and act practically.
  • We are disciplined in our group process, including not having side conversations, not using cell phones, and limiting interruptions. We hold ourselves accountable in our meetings.

Through discussion and interviews with teachers and young women, the group created a set of values and action steps and had a weekly group consultation about their efforts to improve relationships, and plans to spread the project.

The Values We Want to Bring to Our Relationships with Teachers

  1. Honesty and integrity—being real, not fake
  2. Respect—offer it and hope for respect in return
  3. Trust—seek their help and hope they will be fair
  4. Commitment—going to school and doing our best
  5. Communication—speaking up and asking for help
  6. Patience—listen to their point of view
  7. Don’t stereotype them—just as we don’t want to be stereotyped
  8. Love—treat them like parents

Action Steps with Teachers

Direct Schoolwork Actions

  1. Getting to class on time
  2. Getting our class work and home work done
  3. Taking the class seriously: listening well and asking good questions
  4. Asking for help during and after class
  5. Talking about what we want from the class, including grades we are aiming for

Other Relationship Actions

  1. Building a relationship: being honest, having conversations before and after class
  2. Approaching the teacher with respect
  3. Not arguing with the teacher in class; don’t ramp up a conflict—just stop talking
  4. Repairing relationships by apologizing and explaining
  5. Expressing gratitude

Relationships With Young Women

In interviews with the students, a clear set of messages and themes emerged:

  1. Respect was a main theme: how you would treat your mother
  2. Another main theme: not pressuring to have sex—talk about things beforehand
  3. Hitting a female is not okay
  4. Honesty and loyalty
  5. Not acting dumb and playing around to impress girls
  6. Keep your relationship problems separate from school
  7. The values are great but don’t just say them—do them, practice what you preach
  8. Help each other out in school: hold each other accountable, motivate each other
  9. Ideal African American male is smart and confident but not cocky.
  10. Don’t let the media influence how you see beauty in a girl.

Key messages and goals

  • Young women are used to hearing negative words about themselves.
  • We have inherited a long tradition of how we treat women. We can break that mold.
  • We have to practice treating women differently—just like an athlete practices.
  • Our goal is to thrive in relationships with women, not just survive.

Values for their relationships with young women:

  1. Respect and appreciation
  2. Being real, no games
  3. Understanding where they are coming from
  4. Taking things slow, building the relationship
  5. Communication—being clear about agendas
  6. Putting effort into the relationship
  7. Loyalty
  8. Trust
  9. Commitment
  10. Love

Action steps with young women

  • Respect, respect, respect—in words and actions
  • Taking time, building the relationship, and talking before expecting anything sexual
  • Being real, no games
  • Being loyal
  • Keeping our relationship problems out of school
  • Being mature—and not acting dumb and playing around to impress young women
  • Putting effort into relationships
  • Being careful about how we use social media—it can really hurt young women
  • Resisting media influences on how we see beauty in women
  • Motivating ourselves and holding one another accountable in school

In November 2017, evaluations by teachers of the students’ change were underway for their feedback on the project.