The value and necessity of mentoring African American College students at PWI's.

Author:Sinanan, Allison
Position::Predominantly white universities - Report

The Impact of Race

Racism, defined as the inherent belief in the superiority/ inferiority of one group over another (Roger & Kitano, 1970) has impacted the social, economic, and emotional well-being of African Americans (Asante, 2003; Better, 2007; Franklin & Moss, 2000; Karenga, 2002; Reid-Merritt, 2010). The construct of race, socially defined as the ability to separate and categorize individuals based on the color of their skin, has been used as a barrier to participation for the African American community since the earliest inception of the nation (Karenga, 2010). Over a period of more than 300 years, numerous efforts have been made to foster feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, low self-esteem, and social isolation in members of the Black community. Marable (2003) notes that the cultural history of Blacks in the United States consists of the struggle to maintain their own group's sense of identity, social cohesion, and integrity in the face of policies which have been designed to deny their common humanity and particularity. Surviving and thriving in a racially charged social environment has been an ongoing challenge for the African American community. Thinking of race strictly as an ideological construct denies the reality of a racialized society and its impact of this construct on everyday lives; one must be cognizant of racism that African Americans must face in different facets of their lives, including education. Education may not be the only opportunity towards social mobility, though it is an important one. Education provides some "equilibrium" on multiple levels within the African American society (Harris & Harper, 2012). African American students experience a multitude of problems ranging from micro aggressions to institutional racism that exists on the schools campuses; racial tension is a visible reality on many college campuses. The academic setting can be described as a foreign place with a different language (academic) and expectations than high school. Now add the issue of being an African American student in attempting to navigate the complex nature of issues, and challenges, of the academic environment. One must require a new skill set including advanced study skills, socialization skills, research skills, and the ability to exploit networking contacts. Some of these skills may be foreign to many, particularly to first generation minority students.

Some African-American students who attend predominantly white universities (PWI's) can also experience internal tensions regarding their cultural identity and their desire to acclimate. Dubois (1999) acknowledged 110 years ago the significance of a college education for the African-American. In, The Souls of Black Folk, Dubois made the poignant point that "If White people need colleges to furnish teachers, ministers, lawyers, and doctors, do Black people need nothing of the sort?" (p. 132). For Black students, thriving and surviving academically despite numerous encounters with racism may necessitate developing a coping strategy in order to succeed academically. W.E.B. Du Bois coined the concept of "double consciousness," whereby a black people are essentially forced to have two identities and pressured to view themselves as they're perceived by their non-black peers.

History of Forced Integration

Throughout their history, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have answered for the aspirations of their African American students. From the late nineteenth century through the mid twentieth century, HBCUs enrolled more than 90 percent of African American college students educated in the United States. From the 1950s and 1960s following the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, HBCUs were a main access point for African Americans who sought to achieve economic and social mobility through higher education. A consequence of desegregation was the declining enrollments at HBCU's. Reductions in the purchasing power of federal aid have been a major factor in this, as have reductions in the level of state support on a per-pupil basis.

The notable 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruled that all segregation in public schools was "inherently unequal." The doctrine was extended to state-supported colleges and universities in 1956. In 1961, two Black students registered at the University of Georgia but were suspended due to student disorders; they were later returned under a federal judge's order. Violence erupted in 1962 in Mississippi when James H. Meredith, a Black student supported by federal court orders, registered at the University of Mississippi. A mob assembled and attacked the force of several hundred federal marshals assigned to protect Meredith; two people were killed. These incidents of violence and rejection were not in isolation and occurred on many campuses in the South as well as in many other areas in the United States. When African Americans initially attend PWI's, the hostility was quite blatant and overt, now though individual and institutional racism does exists, one may experience more experiences of micro aggressions which contribute to the attrition rates; micro aggressions includes verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (Allen & Eby, 2003; Cuyet, 1997; Cuyet, 2006). Between 1960 and 1970, African American student enrollment in southern PWIs had increased from 3,000 to 98,000 students.

The enrollment of African American students increased significantly With the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), and the continued utilization of the GI Bill (1944) by those returning home from military service, (Mingle, 1981). According to Hine, Hine, and Harrod (2004), between 1960 and 1977, the college attendance of African American students increased from 227,000 to 1.1 million. Unfortunately, once African American students entered PWIs, most of the students felt alone and alienated (Gay, 2000; Callins, 2007; Willie & McCord, 1972). Their experiences on campus were marked with feelings of rejection and social isolation (Patton, 2005)....

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