Saturday, April 9, 2011

Decisions: Black Students Decisions to attend PWI rather than HBCUs

When graduating from high school many African Americans are faced with the decision of attending a historically black college or a predominantly white institution. When considering which route would best suite them many factors come into play. Who would I feel most comfortable around? Which route will better accompany my future success? Which schools have the better reputation? Which school would I qualify for the most money? These questions all bog the minds of African American high students all over the United States when considering colleges. Relativity to culture is a serious factor that contributes to the answers to these questions. As a senior at a predominantly white institution, I can personally say that attending a historically black college may have had a more positive impact on my growth as a college student: academically and socially.

As a sociology major, I am very interested in the cultural aspects of any environment or atmosphere. The dynamics of a college campus seemed to be key in determining the major contributors to students of color’s success in college. There is always a constant negotiating of identity and success in the African American community. The constant negotiating varies according to gender and class within the African American community. As an African American student in college, many times I question how my academic success can be impacted from other factors aside from my capabilities. I felt as if this would be an interesting topic to research by looking into academic success in historically black colleges, compared to private white institutions. Rather we all accept it or not, our environments have a tremendous impact on the way we perform or go about things. While many African American students are now present in higher education, the numbers have fluctuated tremendously over decades. While there was once a sense of urgency in the African American community to attend college, that urgency has sort of come to a halt. Due to the social positions of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, when offered the opportunity to attend college many African American ceased that opportunity and took great advantage of it.

Over the weekend , I got a great opportunity to conduct interviews for my senior project on Tennessee State University's campus (a historically black college). I also had an opportunity to visit Fisk University while I was in Nashville. All the students at these schools said that the thing they liked most about their school is the shared sense of community and support by faculty, staff, and the student body. This was very interesting to me and it even made me question my views on this ohhh sooo great school "RHOOOODDEESS COLLEGGE". I 'll leave it at that. Comments......


  1. I think that it's really interesting that you decided to do your senior project on campus environments and social influences on achievement. I wrote a very similar research paper last semester for my Educational Psychology class. After doing a substantial amount of research, I found that the NUMBER ONE factor that aids in the motivation of college students is atmosphere, that is, a "sense of belonging." When students feel as if they are the "other" or as if they do not have a dependable support group on campuses, they tend not to perform as well. So, what does this say about Black students attending PWIs versus HBCUs? It seems as if it implies that we, as humans, function better in a segregated society...just food for thought...

  2. Hi Ivy,

    That's a very provocative thought you offer at the end of your comment! I can see that under present conditions, (i.e. that because our society is segregated in many ways, we often feel more comfortable with people of our own race) we might assume that humans function better in a segregated society. Nevertheless, I don't think that this is the proper conclusion to make, even ignoring its incredibly disturbing implications. Rather, I think that your research indicates, as you stated, that we function best when we feel that we belong. This is not necessarily the same thing as being segregated into separate racial groups, although it may seem that way in our present society. If we can bring it about so that we feel comfortable with people of all races then segregation will in no way make us function better. I think that segregation NECESSARILY guarantees that people function below capacity because it leads to intellectual and cultural stagnation.

  3. I understand what you are saying Colin. And it is true that it depends on the person to decide who they are comfortable with. It also depends on the type of people being referred to because you will not get along with one group of people or feel comfortable around them just because they are members of your race. In relation to a dominantly find it easier to fit in at an HBCU, but simply being African American does not gaurantee you that support group there, unless you plan on surviving merely on the comfort of being around members of your own race. I feel like it takes much more than race to determine such factors.

  4. Hahaha someone is hating on Rhodes College. You raise some good and difficult issues in this. I am not sure if I agree with all of it, but I think that you flesh out in a very good way the way that all campuses have a race - even if it is unstated or the admissions publicity claims to have achieved "diversity". As we think about white privilege we HAVE to think about why this campus is overwhelmingly white in a city that definitely is not, and in a country that is increasing not. Many of the negative perceptions and assumptions about Rhodes and its students that I have encountered living in Memphis stem from the ways in which our campus screams white privilege in ways that the other universities in this city do not. Thus, I think when you are right to question the factors in your community which have shaped your academic life here at Rhodes -- particularly as someone from Memphis, you came here with a certain perception and knowledge about the college that I, for instance did not. I have heard HBCUs been criticized for encouraging racial segregation, but is a black student choosing to go to Fisk different that a white student deciding to come to an overwhelmingly white school like Rhodes?

  5. I think this situation is a constant debate among black students at Rhodes, but I think that the way a student feels about their situation or ability to fit in at a school whether or not it is a PWI or an HBCU is their past experiences. I think that has a lot to do with it. For students who get to Rhodes and have really never been the minority, it is a shock and it does feel overwhelming, but the same could happen to a black person who has been exposed to diversity and tries to attend an HBCU. I think that this senior topic is great though!


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