5 Things that Make It Difficult to Be a Black Student at a White University
It’s hard to be a university student, even in this and age, when higher education is supposedly more accessible than ever before. Over the past year, the difficulties for students of color have been particularly highlighted, as many news outlets labeled black protesters as angry and dismissed cries of racism over performances and Halloween costumes. Despite the fact that many students of color report feeling maligned, especially at universities that are mostly white, there are very serious challenges presented to black students that white students will never encounter.
1. Racism from peers and professors – Many peers and professors may still hold misinformed biases when it comes to competence and areas of interest of black students. Just one example can be found in a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, and Columbia University. The study found that white male students found it much easier to find mentors in faculty members than women and students of color were able to. If the university was private and if the discipline was a higher-paying one, it would be even more difficult if the student was not a white male. Many black students also felt singled out by their professors during discussions in class. One student reports that she was the only black woman in her computer science class and that her professor told her he had never had “one of you” in his class before. While the professor hadn’t meant to be offensive, it was obvious that he had a predetermined bias against this student.
A paper published in 2013 contained reports from other black students that their white peers were less likely to want to work with them in group projects or that it was more difficult to borrow notes. Some felt that they were being subtly discriminated against and that some of their white peers expressed the idea that black students were trying to piggyback off of the work that the white students were doing, even though when other white students asked for the same help, it was freely given.
2. Pressure to prove yourself – Many students of color feel that they are under much greater pressure to prove themselves than their white peers are. Especially if the university is primary white, many students report feeling as though they have to be even more successful than they would otherwise be, because they are representing their entire race. Because assumptions are often made about whether or not a black student was granted admission on his or her own merits, those same students often feel like they have to prove that they are just as deserving as any other student on campus.
3. The ethnocentric focus of classes – White professors often teach from a white perspective. Many black students feel as though their point of view is completely ignored, especially because there is a serious lack of professors of color on most campuses. This is a problem that has long plagued education in the west: the assumption that white western culture is the most important or the most valuable, and everything else is “other.” Some topics are labeled as “normal” while other topics are labeled as being “ethnic” or “gendered” simply because they do not fall under that heavily ethnocentric focus.
4. Criminalization by campus police – Increased violence on college campuses means an increased police presence and a higher ratio of armed officers on patrol. Black students are not just more likely to be profiled off campus, they are also more likely to be profiled on campus, by the officers who are supposed to be protecting them. Often, a black student will have a much harsher punishment for something that a white student will only get a warning for. Many different activist groups, including Black Lives Matter have protested not only this injustice, but the fact that most universities are now arming their police force. Black college students are more likely to be stopped by campus officer, often over infractions that other students would never be stopped for.
5. No administrative support – It’s not uncommon for black students to feel like they are not supported by the administration. This is largely due to the milquetoast response of administrations to very real racist situations on their campuses. For example, when the University of Missouri president heard of a wide variety of racist incidences on his campus, he did nothing. While he did eventually step down, this is just one example of many across the nation in which the administration did not take proper steps to help students who were being targeted because of their race. Some administrations have actually actively taken steps to prevent new policies or regulations that would have made black students feel more comfortable on their campuses.