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Reach One Teach One: Supporting Black Neurodivergent College Students Using a Mentorship Model

by: Adam Lalor, PhD., Kelly O'Ryan, & Marc Thurman 


In the fall of 2020, Landmark College’s Centers for Diversity and Inclusion established the Reach One Teach One (ROTO) program to serve Black, neurodivergent students as they transition to the College. It is well documented that Black students and those with disabilities have college experiences and outcomes that are quantitatively and qualitatively different from their non-Black and non-disabled peers (Newman et al., 2011). Individually, having either of these identities places students at greater risk for drop-out, and having both identities compounds this issue (deFur & Auguste, 2015). Likewise, it is known that students who identify as Black or disabled frequently face discrimination, prejudice, inequity, inaccessibility, and marginalization (Lindsay, Cagliostro, & Carafa, 2018; Stevens, Liu, & Chen, 2018).  All of this hostility can contribute to environments where Black students with disabilities may feel “othered” and like they do not belong within the college community (Hussain & Jones, 2021). Given low rates and persistence to graduation among Black students (40%; NCES, 2019) and students with disabilities (34%; Newman et al. 2011) compared to their White peers (64%; NCES, 2019) and their peers without disabilities (63%; NCES, 2021), the decision was made for Landmark College Center for Diversity and Inclusion to develop a program geared at improving outcomes for this twice-vulnerable population.

Reach One Teach One Program Description

A sense of institutional belonging and a successful transition to college are suggested as being critical to college persistence (Morningstar et al., 2017; Vaccaro et al.,2015, 2016). Thus, the ROTO program was created to support Black neurodivergent students in transitioning to Landmark College, transitioning to a predominantly white institution/state, developing a sense of belonging, and understanding the range of available campus-based support services. An additional focus of the program included supporting campus colleagues in assessing their respective programs to reduce barriers to access for this cohort of students. The ROTO program employs a mentorship model whereby peers and staff support first-year Black neurodivergent students through:

  • Regular, sometimes weekly, one-on-one meetings with a mentor (a peer or a program coordinator)
  • Study sessions with the group
  • A personalized tour/introduction to support services on campus: academic, social, and health-related
  • Social events


In the second semester of the ROTO program, a qualitative evaluation was conducted to better understand the experiences of the 13 participants. Tactile thematic analysis was used to analyze data for themes. In total, four themes were identified:


Representative Questions
Cultural shift
“[Here] you can feel that even if [faculty and staff] aren’t quite there [in terms of understanding of diversity]…there is like this drive to get into this really accepting place.”
Identity development and exploration
“[What] ROTO taught me as an African American is to accept help. I feel like being a Black man in America, I feel like I’ve got to do this on my own. I’ve got to be strong and independent. But ROTO taught me to let my guard down and have others mentor me.”
“It's definitely the reassurance of like having Black people and being surrounded by them every single day and knowing that they have my back and can understand the struggles I'm going through”
Support resources
“For me, ROTO has helped me find a group, a community…this is like the first group that I’ve actually felt has your back whether it be in school or social relationships.”



The data collected as part of this evaluation highlight that Black, neurodivergent students have benefitted in many ways as a result of their participation in the ROTO program. The ROTO program has reportedly assisted students in developing identity, feeling like they belong as a student at Landmark College, and understanding resources and supports available at the College that will help them thrive.

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