Black Students At White Colleges Fear They'll Lose Their Cultural Identity

According to a recent study published in the National Communication Association’s journal Communication Education black students fear they’ll lose their cultural identity while attending predominately white institutions (PWI).

“[Black students] feel tension between integrating into the dominant culture while honoring their own culture and black pride,” study author Jake Simmons, assistant professor of communication studies at Angelo State University concluded.

“As a group, African-American students wanted to assimilate into their respective universities, but at the same time they expressed a need to maintain cultural independence by segregating from them,” the authors wrote. “The need to segregate was born out of a fear that the African-American culture would become less independent and more similar to the dominant culture.”

The sample size used in the study was quite small with only 67 students. The students surveyed were from Midwest and Southwest schools where black students made up only 4.5 to 8 percent of the population.

As a person that attended a PWI, I can definitely relate to the segregation aspect. At Rutgers University, segregation was nearly impossible not to miss. There was the Paul Robeson floor of one dormitory, as well as Livingston College, that was always described as the “black” campus,  and the other “black” section, Busch Campus where you were always advised to live if you wanted to be around “your people”.  But I also think these factors at Rutgers, made it appealing to more black students.

The students in the study felt as though they had to be the beacon of blackness when it came to educating their white peers about the black experience. They also reported that they felt different from them even because of their dress, language and socializing.

From the study:

Blacknesswhiteness. A specific struggle that emerged from the data was a battle within the African-American students between their Blackness and the perceived
Whiteness of their university. This dialectical pull occurred within participants as they struggled to be proud of themselves and their Blackness while learning and adapting to the Whiteness of their schools. The following example from a female student illustrated the oppositional qualities of BlacknessWhiteness.

“There is a war going on inside of me between my Blackness and your Whiteness. When I see myself in the mirror, I see a competent, talented Black woman. Then I go to class, look around, and realize that I need more. My Blackness seems too…um…Black, like I need to be more than who I am. I need what you [as a White person] have. I need an understanding of how things work, you know, politically. My Blackness, my personhood isn’t enough. I need to Whiten myself to succeed.”


Did you attend a PWI and have the same feelings? Was black culture undermined?


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