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Diversity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

MBPortraitClose2By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Why is it that people assume that Historically White Institutions are diverse, yet in the same breath assume that Historically Black Institutions are not?  And, when I say people — I mean all kinds of people — of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.  If you take a look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions (HWIs), you’ll find that most are not that diverse unless they are located in urban areas.  These institutions, although legally no longer segregated, are far from integrated — especially the more elite, selective institutions.  If you look at the faculty of HWIs, it is not heavily integrated.  Most tenured faculty members are still White and male. 

However, if you look closely at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), you’ll find student bodies that boast considerable diversity — especially if you examine the public HBCUs.  According to statistics gathered by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, for example, 8 percent of public HBCU student enrollment is White, 2 percent is Latino and 1 percent is Asian.  Of note, over the past 30 years, Latinos have increased their presence at HBCUs by 124 percent.  Moreover, the faculty at HBCUs, both public and private institutions, has always been diverse.  HBCUs have opened their doors to the best faculty regardless of racial or ethnic background and continue to do so.  Among HBCUs, Blacks (including Africans and Caribbeans as well as African Americans) make up roughly 60 percent of the faculty, with Whites accounting for 30 percent and Latinos and Asians the remaining 10 percent.  It would be very hard to find this kind of diversity at most HWIs.

Yet, time and time again, HBCUs are looked upon as “segregated” environments that don’t represent the “real world”.  If you have been studying the projected Census data, you know that HBCUs now represent the very real world of the future.  By 2020, the percentage of people of color in our country will be 40 percent and by 2040 the percentage will increase to 50 percent.  HBCUs are preparing students for a very realistic world.

In order to counter misconceptions, HBCU leaders must promote the diversity on their campuses.  This is ever more important given falling enrollments at some HBCUs.  Many students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds could benefit from the nurturing, yet challenging environments at HBCUs as well as the lower tuition. 

Some worry that becoming more diverse will dilute the “HBCUness” of HBCUs — true,  but I doubt that diluting will take place to any great extent.  Culture runs deep and traditions can be maintained with effort.  Just look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions — many have “integrated” but continue to, unfortunately, hold fast to only the culture on which they were founded.  I have a feeling that HBCUs can maintain diversity — thrive from it — and still be the centers of African American culture that they have been for decades.

Increasing Minority Ph.D. Completion

A Foot In Two Worlds

By Kristan Venegas


I appreciate the opportunity to be asked to participate in Diverse’s “The Academy Speaks” blog series but I have to admit that I am hesitant about what I have to offer. As a first generation student and now scholar of color, I still see myself as someone with one tentative foot in the academy, while the other is settled firmly somewhere else. So to be designated as someone who “speaks” for the academy unearths a tentative spot within me.


I am flattered to be asked to participate in this blog series because I care deeply about issues of diversity, the impact of the election on our lives, and the other institutional impacts that are faced by myself and others as we seek to bring ourselves and those around us forward in struggles for respect, equality, and strong futures. I look forward to the possibility of engaging in online dialogues with colleagues on these issues.


At the same time that I see these larger issues, I do not struggle to remind myself of their meaning in my daily life, especially as I have spent so much time reflecting on the basics of access and survival.


One Monday evening last spring, I was a career day speaker at Mount San Antonio Community College for the adult and continuing education program. I stood in front of 20 young students of color. Mainly male, mostly Latino, all drop outs or push outs from the public K-12 system.


During my 30 minutes to speak to the group, I spoke about my commitment to social justice, which manifests itself through action research that helps low income students and students of color to getting college. And then the big question came: “who has the worst chances of going to college?” Though I wish it wasn’t phrased that way, I explained that statistics such as those by Excelencia in Education and NCES suggested that African American and Latino males were proportionally the least represented. I was passing this “insight” onto a room full of mainly Latino males who instantly became embarrassed, defensive, or displayed some combination of both responses. A few students shared their thoughts, which often included a reference to someone else judging them, judging their social backgrounds, making inferences based on their appearances, including fashion choices and skin color.


As the guest speaker, who had known these students for about 20 minutes, I knew that moving onto some sort of motivational speech at that point would have been false and meaningless. Instead, I asked the young men themselves to tell me why they were different, and reminded them to think about what they internally possessed to make sure that they would be different. When the session was over, I had a one-on-one discussion with a young Latino named Joey. He is tenacious, strong, and has, to date, escaped his narcotic past. I left that meeting exhausted but with a real sense of hope that some of the students from this class, students with capabilities and drive like Joey’s, will change the statistics about ethnic male participation in postsecondary education.


The euphoria continued for a little under 12 hours. Early Tuesday morning, around 2:45 am, a different young Latino was arrested about two feet from the end of my driveway. While I still don’t know all of the details, I do know that he was stabbed, bleeding, and arrested, though also provided medical treatment.


My house and block were marked off with yellow police tape and detectives roamed our block taking statements, while investigators marked the fresh blood stains that trailed up and down the street. Being in the middle of a crime scene, even if only an absolute bystander, really impacted the rest of my day. I was late for my first meeting with an Associate Dean. Something had happened to me that I couldn’t stop wondering about. The parallels between the hope I had experienced just the night before with the males I met created a sharp contrast to the reality that was overtaking my low-income, ethnic, urban neighborhood. Should I explain to her that I have chosen to live in the neighborhood where I grow up and that this is the 2nd crime that has taken place at the end of my driveway in the last six months? Would she understand what that meant? How would this change how she might think about me as an academic? How does this change that way that you as a reader are thinking about me and my community choices right now?


The same defensiveness, need for compensation, or just plain second guessing myself in confiding in Associate Dean was part of me, just as it was part of the coping mechanism of the young men I spoke to just the day before. The connections made here are not meant to be melodramatic. Instead, they are drawn to meet two goals. First, they help you as the reader understand my voice as a purposefully bi-cultural academic. Second, they call into question that numerous mental and social privileges that affect K-12 schooling, safety, and postsecondary access. I have a PhD and yet my background and current choices make me question may place in the academy. What must it be like for the Black and Latino males who have much less entrée in postsecondary education? They are more likely to be able to discern the role of yellow police tape than they are able to explain the role and function of an Associate Dean. Where are the disconnects, where are the opportunities for learning, and how can we bridge the two in a meaningful way?


Dr. Kristan M. Venegas is an assistant professor, director of Masters Programs and a research associate at the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.


Not Just One Dark Body: Scaling the Intercultural Mountain in the HBCU Classroom

By Dr. Pamela Reed

It is no secret that classrooms at historically Black colleges and universities are becoming increasingly culturally diverse, both with regard to faculty and students. More and more, international students and faculty contribute in a singularly significant way to this heterogeneous mélange. Whether they hail from the African continent, the Caribbean, South or Latin America, or other global ports, university students and faculty of color are more representative than ever of the diversity within the African Diaspora.

In my department alone at Virginia State University, the faculty is/has been comprised of citizens of Guadalupe, Panama, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ecuador. We even had Fulbright Scholars from Kenya and Egypt. Not to mention German, and other European-descended faculty members. Besides that, during my three-year tenure, I have worked with students from (or descended from) Jamaica, Ghana, Honduras, Nigeria, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Haiti, among others. Add to that mix American Indians and Caucasians. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon to the HBCU, but the numbers are steadily increasing with the passage of time.

Certainly, this turn of events is not unique to the HBCU. For beyond the manifest benefits of the mobility that is afforded to students who study abroad, economic and otherwise, there are numerous gains that are less obvious to the laic observer. Indeed, recent studies indicate that those who study abroad, while undoubtedly confronted with the stress of culture shock in the short term, are ultimately endowed with life skills that enable them to more readily handle the trials and tribulations confronted in today’s complex world.

By extension, a survey of the literature reveals that — because of increased cultural sensitivity and skills acquired in working with “the other” — American students matriculating at colleges or universities with appreciable numbers of international students are likely more capable of competing in the global marketplace. The same is presumably true of all students; however, in this instance it is the African American case under consideration.

Still, it is undeniable that this “diversity” and “multiculturalism” is a radical departure from the established norms of the American (and global) academy. Most assuredly, in recent years, colleges and universities around the world are grappling with this sea-change in the collective educational landscape. It is for this reason that academic departments, and positions devoted to diversity, inclusion, equal opportunity, multiculturalism, intercultural studies, area studies, equity (or whatever name individual universities choose to assign them) are burgeoning around the country, as well as the greater western world, and beyond.

Ironically, these areas are routinely overlooked in the boardrooms and cabinets of HBCUs. Along these lines, I recently submitted a personally requested proposal for a conference presentation on this very topic to a major national organization of HBCU professionals, and the silence was deafening. Similarly, I broached the topic with a high-ranking HBCU official who told me, in short order, that this is just not done at the HBCU, that this is the purview of majority institutions.

Indeed, because most of the faces in HBCU classrooms are of a darker hue, we typically ignore the need for multicultural affairs and intercultural conflict resolution in our midst. The time has come, I believe, to address this void in HBCU administration and student affairs, and hopefully come to the realization that we can no longer afford to view our student population as just “one dark body,” if I may borrow and extend W. E. B. Du Bois’ classic metaphor presented in The Souls of Black Folk.

Hopefully, moreover, the notion of a Black monolith will soon be forever abandoned, and a spark will be ignited, propelling HBCU’s to begin to actively and formally acknowledge the internecine tensions — often simmering beneath the surface — amongst the various groups of African descendants matriculating and teaching in our hallowed halls. That is not to say, I must hastily add, that all the branches of the Diaspora are not tributaries of the metaphorical river that is African culture; however, we must actively work on strengthening the ties that bind us — lest the African continent should instead become a distributary, from which the diverse branches of the said river flow away from the source, never to return.

To this end, elements of the cultural mosaic, focusing on the visible and invisible components of culture must be systematically explored. From language, gender, and national origin, to family, educational values and religion/spirituality, the rich diversity of the African Diaspora must be examined, not only within the context of the academy, but within real-world current events such as Darfur, or even the upcoming presidential election.

Lastly, the role of culture on teaching and learning styles should also be a focal point, and the profound impact of cultural competence of both faculty and students must be acknowledged and studied — and restudied. Last but certainly not least, we all benefit from cultural exchange and, thus, it is to be treasured, encouraged and nurtured at the HBCU in a programmatic way, comparable to “minority” or multicultural affairs operations at majority institutions. And this cultural panoply must be critically examined. In so doing, both our kinship and our diversity must be studiously regarded. So, yes, we are one. One dark body. But, when you scratch the surface, we are so much more.

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

The Intersection of Presidential Politics, Race, Culture, and Higher Learning

By Dr. Pamela Reed


Much has been made of education levels and voting patterns in the Presidential nominating contests of the Democratic Party for the 2008 general election, particularly since Barack Obama emerged as the presumptive nominee. Well almost. Week after week, exit polls indicate that highly educated White Americans—Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans—are more likely to cast a vote for Senator Barack Obama. 

By contrast, those Democrats with no college education tend to support Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, even when most experts agree that she has absolutely no chance of overcoming Obama’s pledged delegate lead.  An even more curious statistic is that the majority of these same respondents often express doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness.    

Further, the polls also report that rather than pulling the proverbial lever for Obama in November, well over one-third of Democratic respondents with no college education maintain that they will vote for the Republican John McCain in November.  This, even after the undeniably disastrous soon-to-be eight years of the George W. Bush-led Republican era in America—and at a time when gasoline is now priced at, near or over $4 a gallon, and the Iraq War rages on, well into its sixth year, now longer than both World War I and World War II. 

What are we to make of this pattern?  Does this mean that Whites with only a high school education are not smart enough to realize that John McCain represents a continuation of the Bush/Cheney policies that have many of us holding our collective breath, lest we too find ourselves inhabiting the proverbial Poor House?  Or does it suggest that these Whites with less education are too racist to vote solely on the basis of merit, irregardless of race?  That is, is there a direct correlation between education level and  “racial tolerance”?  After all, significant numbers of Whites with no college education, when polled, say that race is a factor in their voting.

To the contrary, it is this writer’s perspective that it is not a matter of intellectual capacity, but cultural competence that is lacking in these White voters who have not matriculated in institutions of higher learning.  After all, studies indicate that cultural maturity can be a major benefit of college education, particularly at culturally diverse institutions. For instance in 2000, arguing in favor of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action standards, a consortium of Fortune 500 corporations offered in a court brief that students imbued with the richness of higher education in a diverse university setting are more likely to understand, appreciate and willingly work with those of varied racial and cultural backgrounds.

In view of this, it is not a stretch to suggest that this same principle can be extended in the area of voting patterns.  This is the only reasonable explanation for the willingness of some Democrats to consider voting for the Republican candidate for President of the United States, at a time when few would argue  that we are approaching a point-of-no-return with regard to the American standard of living—thanks to the policies of the Republicans.

I think this is what Barack Obama was attempting to say in his historically clumsy “bitter” remarks, in response to a question about the unwillingness of many “blue collar” voters in Pennsylvania to consider voting for him (the same people who Governor Ed Rendell announced would not vote for an African American candidate).  He was not saying that people “cling” to God and guns ONLY because of tough economic times. 

What he was trying to say, at least in the mind of this registered Independent, is that some White Americans—primarily those with no college education— even when confronted with the obvious shortcomings of the economic policies of the Republican Party, which are directly attributable to their own (and all of America’s) personal hardship, will then tend to look to other Republican platform planks to stand on.  That is right-to-life issues, gun control, gay marriage, etc.

Perhaps nothing speaks more to the need for diversity and inclusion infusion in the American education system than this political quandary. Clearly, we can no longer afford to put off this cultural enrichment for post-secondary education. After all, alarming numbers of American students are failing to even reach the high school graduate threshold. The good news, though, is that intercultural competence levels are on the rise in the United States; however, one need not be a rocket scientist to realize that there is still much more work to be done. And it must begin at the very earliest stages of American pedagogy.  Our very future depends upon it.



Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.



A Moving History from the Era of Jim Crow

By Alfred Brophy

I’ve been talking about African American intellectuals, their literary output, and the era of Jim Crow a bunch of late.

One of my favorite works of history is W. Sherman Savage‘s The Controversy Over the Distribution of Abolitionist Literature, 1830-1860 (1938), by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Why has it won this place in my heart? In part because of the conditions under which Dr. Savage (who was a professor of history at Lincoln University) wrote and published it–in the dark days of Jim Crow. Its newsprint paper testifies to the difficult economic conditions of its publication. Yet, despite the hardships of being an African American scholar of extremely modest background and means, Dr. Savage persevered.

I first fell in love with this volume when, as a third year law student (now many, many years ago) I was working on the response to abolitionist literature that was mailed through the United States mail to southern slaveholders and free blacks alike. The abolitionists’ campaign was a shrewd one–to use that great engine of commerce, the mails, to get their ideas into the hands of people where they might have an impact. The response testifies to the power of ideas to liberate us as a people.

Savage’s volume collected a lot of wisdom and presented it in simple and therefore elegant prose. And as I wondered about why such an important work was printed on such, well, inexpensive paper it dawned on me that this was the case because this was likely all the publisher could afford. Ah, further testimony to how ideas can find expression and an audience, even when they are not clothed in the trappings of wealth and majesty.

It’s further testimony to the perseverance of people who sought to tell the truth in those dark days–and were able to help our country remake itself.

Savage’s book is also a reminder that the mainstream academy does not always address issues of importance to African Americans. As Christopher Metzler’s been talking about here of late, we need to be careful to produce scholarship of importance to the African American community–and to our country as a whole. Similarly, we ought to be very suspicious of our colleagues who tell us that issues of race aren’t important or that we’ve already learned what we’re going to from research on race.

Black Scholarship or White Imperalism?

By Dr. Christopher Metzler


There has been considerable debate among my colleagues about Black scholars and the production of Black scholarship. On the one hand, some White academics complain that Black scholars spend too much time on “ghetto scholarship.” This usually refers to Critical Race Theory, Africana Studies, and the impact of racism on our lives, both historically and contemporaneously. On the other hand, some Black scholars argue that we have a responsibility to study, analyze and write about the continuing significance of race in a thoughtful and substantive matter.


The reality is that the halls of academe are dominated by many White, imperialistic scholars who are rarely taken to task when they write about cultural issues of their choosing, i.e., feminism, essentialism, etc. Yet, many of them see no problem with marginalizing Black studies. Moreover, many of the same ones proudly call themselves liberals and, as such, believe that their White privilege endows them with the inalienable right to judge African diaspora studies by ostensibly neutral standards. Of course, since they set the standards, they determine neutrality.


For all its talk about diversity, the academy lags shamefully and unapologetically behind corporate America in this regard. One only need be a member of the academy to experience the contradiction between what the members of the “ivory tower” say and what they do. So then, does this mean that if Black scholars take to heart the responsibility to interrogate the ways in which racism affects our people, we will have no recourse but to join the faculties of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s)? Does it mean, moreover, that a generation of Black scholars will be discouraged from the pursuit of “black scholarship” if they expect promotion and tenure? Will we take the bait of imperialistic “liberal” scholars and model the segregated American society? For at least two reasons, the answer is a resounding no.


First, we have an obligation to study the continuing significance of race, whether on the faculties of majority institutions or HBCU’s. Second, in my experience, we need to confront the arrogance of so many White liberal academics who preach inclusion, yet routinely “Jump Jim Crow,” as they say. If we do not, we will do a disservice to academic freedom and the civil rights movement, both of which are critical to the advancement of our scholarship.


We should define for ourselves what scholarship is and then rigorously pursue it. I, for one, am tired of the academic institutions that airbrush Black faces onto their Web sites, while far too often relegating Black faculty to the institutional margins. Or they attempt to hire chief diversity officers, as if a CDO alone could change the deeply embedded culture of denigration and disrespect that many Black academics face.

When all is said and done, the goal posts for achievement are set up by the dominant culture in the academy. Many of us reach those goal posts, only to find that they have been moved. So, we have to ask ourselves, is this about “Black scholarship” or about the imperialistic, hegemonic nature of the academy?



Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University.

Increasing the numbers of scholars is the key

By Lamont Flowers

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education’s interview with Dr. Houston Baker, “Literary Scholar Indicts Some Black Thinkers for Shallow Works,” was very informative in that it enables all of us to think more critically about our work and what is the real impact of our scholarship. The interview also encourages researchers and scholars who focus on the African American experience to consider some of the pressing challenges facing scholarship about African American history and life as well as the role of academic freedom.

More importantly, I believe that the interview uncovers probably a more critical issue that may potentially impact the production of scholarship on African Americans the underrepresentation of scholars writing about and conducting research on issues related to understanding and improving the quality of life for African Americans. In essence, the interview points clearly to the importance of encouraging scholars, who are able and willing, to mentor the next generation of scholars and problem solvers. Producing and mentoring new scholars will ensure that there will be a variety of people, with different cultural lenses and scholarly approaches, to examine the African American experience in education, housing, politics, economics, criminal justice, music, media, philosophy, etc.


I contend that an increase in the number of scholars who study issues related to African American issues and race relations may also improve the number and utility of approaches for enhancing the well-being of the Black community in America. Moreover, this next generation of scholars may also lead to the type of diversity in thinking that may provide the best defense against the myriad of theoretical, evidence-based, scholarly, and practical topics, issues, and concerns that decrease opportunities and defers the dreams of many African Americans.

Dr. Lamont A. Flowers is the Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Executive Director of Charles H. Houston Center for the Study of the Black Experience in Education at Clemson University.








Banning Affinity Groups Shows Lack of Understanding


By Dr. Christopher Metzler



An Arizona Legislative Committee has amended a state homeland security bill to state, in relevant part, “A public school in this state, a university under the JURISDICTION of the Arizona board of regents and a community college under the JURISDICTION of a community college DISTRICT in this state shall not allow organizations to operate on the CAMPUS of the school, UNIVERSITY or community college if the organization is based in whole or in part on race-based criteria.“


The amendment, introduced by State Representative Russell K. Pearce, R-Mesa, is clearly aimed at denying public universities funds, unless they prohibit the existence of student affinity groups, such as those frequently organized by Blacks and Latinos on campuses across the country.


In the Ward Connerly tradition, it is an attempt to move to further advance the ideological argument that American college campuses should be color-blind and that the presence of organizations formed by students of color on campuses threaten the myth of color blindness. Rather than attempting to enact draconian laws that prohibit freedom of association, lawmakers should ask why there is still a need for these groups to exist in a “post racial” America.


Let me tell you why.  First, students on university campuses continue to align along racial lines because too many universities, including those in the Ivy League, flagship state universities, as well as other state colleges and universities, promote a specious approach to “diversity,” focusing obsessively on showing that they are “diverse” by touting the number of students of color who have been recruited into their ranks. This over emphasis on numbers, without an equal and incorruptible emphasis on examining how verily welcoming and inclusive these campuses are, exposes the sham of bantam diversity efforts.


 Students of color organize along racial lines in an effort to deal with the fact that while college campuses say that they value racial and ethnic diversity, their policies, practices and behaviors often demonstrate just the opposite.  Many people unleash vitriolic attacks on students of color who form groups based on their racial identity, yet these same people refuse to even acknowledge the continued existence of Whites who form or maintain clubs that are predominantly or exclusively White. (Read dining clubs, secret societies, and lacrosse clubs).


 On most college campuses, the term “self-segregation” only applies when students of color choose to establish associations. The term “normal” is applied to clubs whose membership is predominantly, if not exclusively, White. This dichotomous approach to “self-segregation” is exactly the problem. Self-segregation is itself a political, ideological and racialized term. Thus, this attempt to legislate integration shows a stupendous lack of understanding of the fraud that often masquerades as campus diversity efforts, as well as the reality of the experience of many racial minority students on predominantly White campuses.


Further, for all the attempts to tout demographic gains, in terms of students, faculty and administration, most major college and university campuses are still predominantly White. Thus, students of color often form groups in an attempt to decrease the stark reality of isolation in the halls of academe, which appears to increase fear on the part of the State of Arizona. This attempt to mandate integration by Rep. Pearce is not designed to address issues of isolation, but rather to make Whites on college campuses feel less threatened by outlawing the formation of these groups. His argument seems to be that the state should use its power to compel color blind behavior, as this would serve its interest to create, define and defend White comfort by characterizing the presence of groups organized by students of color as a crisis of declining “American values.” 


Finally, Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations, Committee, said he hopes the measure helps return cultural studies in the state’s schools to a “melting pot” model. He summarizes the amendment thus:  “This bill basically says, ‘You’re here. Adopt American values.’” Of which American value does he speak? I’ll tell you.  It is the one that built a counter-subversive coalition mobilized around the State’s self-appointed authority to decree what and who is American.


Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean in the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.