Creating Inclusive College Campuses for Black Men

Black male students face unique challenges at predominantly white colleges, including feelings of invisibility, microaggressions, and a dearth of Black faculty.
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Published on Oct 28, 2020
Updated Feb 02, 2023
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  • Compared to other races, Black men have some of the lowest college graduation rates.
  • Black male students often encounter negative stereotypes and microaggressions on campus.
  • Campus mentorship and leadership opportunities are critical for Black students' success.

Diversifying college campuses and retaining students of color remains an important objective for many predominantly white colleges and universities. College is a pivotal time for young adults, teaching them independence and critical thinking skills. Campus diversity allows students to study various perspectives and also helps them learn to communicate and engage effectively with people of different backgrounds.

Ensuring college campuses reflect the racial and ethnic variation in the U.S. should be a top priority for higher education institutions.

Recent data reveals significant disparities in college completion rates among racial groups. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center assessed six-year graduation rates for students who started college in fall of 2010. In the study, white and Asian students completed their programs at similar rates (62% and 63.2%, respectively). In contrast, Hispanic and Black students graduated college at notably lower rates (45.8% and 38%, respectively).

At four-year institutions, Black men completed their degrees at the lowest rate (40%), and Asian women completed their degrees at the highest rate (75.7%).

In 2018, just 18.6% of Black men aged 25-29 held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to more than a quarter of Black women.

College enrollment and completion rates are even starker across gender, especially among Black students. The American Association of University Women found that Black women are more likely than Black men to earn degrees at all levels. Similarly, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education revealed that in 2018, just 18.6% of Black men aged 25-29 held a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to more than a quarter of Black women.

While Black women continue to make strides in degree attainment, the same increase has not been seen in Black men. This education gap will have dire consequences for the future social and economic mobility of Black men. Without a college education, Black men will continue to have less access to social capital, less earning power, and decreased occupational attainment.

Enrollment gaps and completion rates for Black men point to persistent social inequities rooted in structural and institutional racism. When examining why Black men fall short of college completion, we need to consider the factors that inhibit their academic success and their experiences on college campuses.

Racism and the Campus Experience for Black Men

Black male students often endure microaggressions rooted in racist and gendered stereotypes.
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The societal narrative surrounding Black men and their propensity for college attendance is largely negative. Black men have often been perceived to possess oppositional attitudes toward college attainment. Contrary to this narrative, Black men hold high aspirations for attending and completing college. Still, incidents of racism and marginalization impact their ability to succeed.

When Black men attend predominantly white institutions, they often endure microaggressions rooted in racist and gendered stereotypes. For example, a Black man may be viewed as the "dumb jock" or the "at-risk student" with a propensity toward criminal behavior.

For Black men, a lack of positive reinforcement and affirmations from their K-12 teachers can negatively impact them during their college years. Negative perceptions of their academic abilities — coupled with the absence of positive reinforcement — can cause them to internalize these beliefs about their failure and underperform academically.

Key Factors for Black Male Students' Success

Social integration and Black male students' involvement in the campus culture are crucial. Engagement with peers through clubs and activities is important for strengthening students' sense of belonging, raising self-confidence, and encouraging academic and personal success.

Many predominantly white institutions have a shortage of both Black male students and Black male faculty and staff. Additionally, Black men from poorer neighborhoods may have fewer opportunities for connections to social capital and financial resources that can aid them in attending and succeeding in college.

Factors That Encourage Success Among Black Male Students

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    Campus diversity and Black male student peers
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    Black male faculty, administrators, and staff
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    Black male role models, mentors, and confidants
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    Inclusive student clubs and organizations
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    Inclusive curricula and culturally competent teaching
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    Access to dedicated financial aid and resources

For Black men entering college without access to positive social networks or role models, having access to Black administrators and faculty is critical for their retention and overall sense of belonging. These individuals can serve as confidants, mentors, and allies, aiding Black male students' integration into the larger campus culture.

Money is also a major determinant of Black men's college success. Black men are disproportionately more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Because of this, they may lack prior exposure to the college-going culture and face challenges with paying for tuition and other college expenses.

Making College Campuses Inclusive for Black Men

What can we do to encourage Black men to enroll in college and finish their degrees? K-12 educators need be aware of how their biases and flawed thinking harm Black male students' future success and the overall learning environment.

When Black men feel their identity, talents, and intellect are not valued in the learning environment, they become more likely to disengage from their studies. Black men must be in learning environments supported by teachers and allowed to openly share their fears, worries, and concerns.

When Black men feel their identity, talents, and intellect are not valued in the learning environment, they become more likely to disengage from their studies.
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Teachers must also model the importance of learning from mistakes and encourage students to understand how failure is part of the learning process. Strengths-based teaching methods, in which instructors learn to focus on and highlight the unique talents students bring to the learning environment, are critical for student success. This culturally competent teaching practice helps facilitate a student's sense of belonging.

Hiring more faculty and staff of color at predominantly white institutions has been a strategic goal for several colleges and universities. Many institutions have investigated nontraditional and diverse methods to recruit and hire diverse faculty and staff. Black teachers, specifically Black men, understand Black male students' unique cultural needs and can create a positive learning environment that promotes academic success.

Black teachers can also help by challenging traditional white curricula that neither highlights nor centers the experiences of people of color. Research indicates that when Black male students have access to a Black teacher, dropout rates fall. Students gain a more positive view of school as well.

The financial cost of attending college can be a huge deterrence for many low-income students. Pipeline programs that aid Black male students in completing high school and college are critical. These programs also help high school students apply for college, financial aid, and find scholarships.

Additionally, pipeline programs can increase college attendance and affordability by offering a stipend or scholarship to high school students who elect to enroll in a college or university upon graduation.

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Enhancing Mentorship Opportunities for Black Male Students

Black men need safe spaces outside the learning environment to seek refuge from anti-Black racism and flawed assumptions about their abilities.

Student involvement for Black men is critical, as they may come to campus lacking cultural connections. Moreover, their numerical rarity on campus could magnify feelings of invisibility. Having a space where they can connect, meet like-minded peers, and acquire leadership skills is essential for their academic and personal success.

Black male students should also have access to formal mentorship opportunities, which allow them to learn from college staff, faculty, and community members.

Creating inclusive campuses for Black men and raising their graduation rates requires a comprehensive approach. These students need access to support services — such as academic advising, mental health counseling, tutoring, student leadership and community service opportunities, and special events or workshops — that focus on issues important to Black men.

Having a space where Black male students can connect with like-minded peers and acquire leadership skills is essential for their academic and personal success.

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Established in 2002, Georgia's African-American Male Initiative (AAMI) is active at 26 of the state's 30 public campuses. The initiative was designed to increase the number of Black men who complete postsecondary education. It uses an integrated model of academic and student services to equip Black male students with the necessary tools to succeed and adopt a positive attitude toward success. Programs like AAMI provide comprehensive wraparound services that meet the holistic needs of Black male students.

Making campuses inclusive for Black men might not be easy, but it's necessary. We need to ensure Black men have access to an equitable education — and a better and improved quality of life.

This endeavor toward inclusivity will take a coordinated approach between K-12 educators and colleges and universities. It is a comprehensive and systemic approach that addresses biases in teaching, encourages the hiring of Black faculty and staff, eliminates financial barriers, and provides an array of campus mentorship and leadership opportunities.