From The Grio — I wasn’t necessarily in love with my major department at my undergraduate institution, though I had some fairly decent professors.

Then came the semester I took Blacks in Film as an elective. I then took African-American Studies, and then a summer semester Harlem Renaissance course at a local community college.

Each of those professors brought a combination of passion and academic rigor to the courses that I honestly had not seen in many of my other my classes.

What was different? Aside from one high school teacher, this was the first time that I was gifted academic knowledge by someone who reflected my cultural background and experience.

This view probably mirrors many other former and current Black learners, even with caring white teachers. However, a May 2011 study reports that 42 percent of all African-Americans at predominantly white college campuses never had a single black professor during four years of college. Seventy-four percent of the same students had only one black professor in a field outside of African-American studies.

On a subconscious level, this was in part why chose a career in academia, why I became a ‘Blackademic.’

These results indicate a phenomenon far beyond not having enough black faculty on campuses across the U.S. It means that there are too few examples for black students to model themselves after and that many don’t see the option.

Dr. John Barker, assistant provost for undergraduate education at the University of Miami, gives a prime example. When he speaks to new groups of mostly minority students, he has them do a visualization exercise, in which students picture a faculty member and then give a description. “Nine out of 10 picture one who is white,” says Barker.

With the American economy in its current state of disrepair, graduate school applications have spiked as job options have become scarce. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, minorities in U.S. graduate schools rose from 28.3 percent of first-time domestic enrollment in 2008 to 29.1 percent in 2009. Women accounted for about 71 percent of black U.S. students who enrolled in graduate schools for the first time in 2009. These numbers could mean that eventually, more black students will consider academic careers. But what exactly does it mean to be young and black in the academy, or a Blackademic, in terms of challenges and the current economy?

Dr. Kandace Harris, Associate Professor and Chair of Mass Communication at Shaw University, is a product of historically black Howard University, and has been a faculty member at three other HBCUs before Shaw. For Harris, entering the academy meant that she could evoke change, altering the thinking about HBCUs. “The rhetoric about HBCUs is that they are ‘less than’, when they actually offer multiple opportunities,” Harris says. As a young academic, Dr. Harris stands as an example of what such institutions can produce.

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  • new moon

    I went to a state University… which was predominatley white. However I had two black professors during my four years. I thought they were awesome professors and I learned a lot from them. One was a sociology prof, the other a polital science/criminal justice. But I can’t discount the white professors who also impressed me academicaly. But I def think that Colleges should have more black professors represented… I think their perspective on just about any subject matter is fresh, differant, and holds a passion that’s unusual considering. I’m excited that enrollement into higher education amoung minorities has gone up!

  • It’s tough being a black professor. I’ve heard a lot of black PhD students complain about some of the challenges they face. It can be pretty disillusioning and easier to opt of academia into the corporate world.

  • I go to the University of Virginia which has about 9% blacks enrolled throughout the university. I definitely believe there should be more black professors at predominantly white universities. BUT we do have a good amount of black professors outside of the African American Studies major. I think the strongest thing a predominantly white school can do is have outreach for minority students. We have the Office of African American Affairs and I can truly say each dean has been supportive throughout my college career. More black professors is great, but at the end of the day, each professor teaches by the syllabus and if you go to a huge school and take huge classes you probably won’t have much interaction with the professors. So a strong outreach program is a key factor in helping black students at a school and reinforce the professor’s goals. Providing emotional, academic, and social support definitely makes a difference.

    Also, I definitely think HBCU’s are great schools. I considered Spelman and Hampton, but it’s all about preference: whether the school accommodates a student as far as finances, majors, outreach, etc. UVA gave me a lot of money and the outreach was great. I also don’t feel like I’m less aware of black culture because I go to a mostly white school. It makes me more aware of it and appreciate it even more.

  • Again with this statistic! It makes no sense!

    “…A May 2011 study reports that 42 percent of all African-Americans at predominantly white college campuses never had a single black professor during four years of college. Seventy-four percent of the same students had only one black professor in a field outside of African-American studies.”

    Someone please explain this to me… if you have a group of students that have never had a black professor, then how is it that a pool of those same students had one black professor?? You either had one, or you didn’t. So I don’t understand.

    I’ve tried to read it in different ways… Maybe 42% of all AA students have never had a black professor, and 74% of all AA students have had at least one, but 42% and 74% add up to more than 100%.

    I’m really frustrated with not understanding this statistic because then the article means nothing to me, with no scientific backing.