Beyond Black History Month: Creating An Inclusive Culture That Transcends February

As Black History Month comes to a close, we’re left to reflect on the importance of the creating a culture where black students can feel supported all year round. From student affairs and intentional programming, to developing divisional priorities, to hiring inclusive identities; these responsibilities fall on everyone’s shoulders.

We understand this discussion looks different depending on your campus type. At Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) this conversation is much more dynamic than at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Both campus types offer specific benefits to students, and our goal isn’t to debate the overall impact of one versus the other, as that really misses the point of higher education. We’re hoping to provide resources for you to use Black History Month as an impetus to start a larger conversation about what it looks like to support black students year-round on your campus!

Creating a Sense of Belonging for Black Students

The majority of black students in the United States are attending PWI’s. The transition to college for black students looks very different from their white peers – that’s because most black students enter college as first generation, come from low-income families, and experience entering college as part of a marginalized group. Racial tensions occur as many college students experience their first interracial contact when they first arrive to college.

Black students often face several challenges that build up to them fearing perpetuating black stereotypes – which leaves them spending more time worrying and less time learning,

“they feel a great tension between integrating into dominant culture and honoring their own culture and black pride.”

man-person-school-head

Offering Solutions for Campuses

There are solutions for the four main issues black students feel at PWIs – campus climate, academic preparedness, commitment to the institution, social and academic integration and financial aid.

Suggestions for solutions outlined in this article are holistic in nature, and should be implemented on campus with the understanding that there is no one quick fix, and these solutions must be fully embedded in the division and identity of the institution.

Creating an action plan for PWI’s is a great place to start. Administrators should develop a list of stakeholders who should be a part of this conversation and use this month as a motivational push to start this conversation.

Research shows that residence halls are one of the best ways to help black students transition to college. Recently, the University of Connecticut implemented a new living-learning community space in a residence hall for black male students. The Department of Residential Life has created the ScHOLA2Rs House to give students access to a supportive living community, resources, and professors who they can lean on and help them persist at the institution.

According to boston.com, a representative of the university indicated,

“At many predominantly white institutions nationwide, elements of African-American culture are harder to find, which can make some students experience a sense of detachment from their universities.”

Several studies indicate black students succeed more when they have mentors who look like them. Institutions are becoming more intentional with hiring practices to prioritize hiring diverse faculty and staff reflective of the student population. Most staff and faculty working at institutions say they believe in equal opportunity, but often align their views and values with that of unequal access claiming the factor responsible is ‘individual effort’ for education inequities among black students. More awareness and education with staff and faculty at is needed at PWI’s specifically to make sure they’re not further marginalizing black students through campus resources.

Resources like this search toolkit, give ideas to help the entire search cycle – from writing an inclusive job description, to building a well represented search committee through ways to improve the on-campus interview. Implementing these changes will help potential candidates with diverse identities to understand that the campus is a welcoming place where they’ll feel connected and succeed professionally.

Here are questions to reflect on as you think about the black student experience at your institution adapted from a study at California State Sacramento:

1) Do you think black students feel a sense of belonging on campus?

2) Do you feel your institution is supportive of racial diversity? How could you improve?

3) Do you feel your institution supports diversity in general (programs, centers, resources)?

4) Do you feel the curriculum(s) offered at your institution value diversity?

5) What do you think has been a major barrier black students face while pursuing a degree at your institution?

Implementing Changes That Make a Difference

There are ways for all institutional types to utilize the insights we’ve garnered from racial tensions on campuses that have received nationwide attention throughout the year. Black students are providing comprehensive ways in which they’d like to see their respective institutions improve, and they’re often requests that all campuses can use to some extent.

Examples include curriculum changes to show more accurate depictions of history in mainstream general education courses, rather than those areas of history being covered only in elective courses. Another demand is the creation of physical safe spaces for students of color and more resources allocated towards multicultural affairs departments and programming efforts.

All too often resources are not being allocated fairly under student affairs divisions to multicultural affairs staff, programming, and education for students.

Allocating budgets to specific departments are a statement of campuses priorities. Administrators need to communicate to students through these actions that student’s safety and success is at the forefront of their mind so they can thrive in the educational institution they chose to attend. Using assessment practices can help determine where to best allocate funding on campus for students of color and students in other marginalized groups.

Finally, identify ways that your campus can integrate specific goals into a long term plan for campus. If your division or entire campus is working on a strategic plan, this is a great opportunity for campus stakeholders to come together and decide specific goals, attainable metrics and timelines as they relate to inclusivity.

Beyond Black History Month

We hope this post has inspired you to think about how to expand the conversations about Black History Month and raise the bar at your institution. When students decide to attend college, they expect to feel supported by and connected to the people. Working to embed black culture and staff, faculty and administrators into the fabric of your university will go a long way in helping your students to see themselves on your campus and succeed.

We would be remiss if we finished this post without addressing the positions of privilege we both hold as white women who graduated from PWI’s. Our passions as students and professionals in higher education have lied in creating environments where students of all diverse identities can thrive and feel welcomed. The work we did on our campuses was reflective of our beliefs as student affairs practitioners: the responsibility of diversity education does not fall onto one office or individual, but on all of us. We’re thankful to have platform to share education and spread awareness about creating inclusive climates and hope you consider exploring your next step of acquiring knowledge to support students of color.

How do you personally support black students on campus? Your department/institution? What types of initiatives has your campus launched to support black student success? Have they been successful?

Share your story with us and tweet us @CheckImHere!

About the Authors

Lindsay Murdock and Kayley Robsham are twenty something’s working at Check I’m Here passionate about discussing issues of diversity and social justice in the workplace and how to create inclusive campus cultures for college students. You can follow them on Twitter @linds_murdock and @kayleyrobsham!

References

Fischer, J.M. (2007). Settling into campus life: Differences by race/ethnicity in college involvement and outcomes. The Journal of Higher Education 78(2): 126-161.

Sue, W. (2004). Whiteness and ethnocentric monoculturalism: making the “invisible” visible. American Psychologist 59(8): 759 – 769.

Lindsay Murdock

About the author: Lindsay is a past Engagement Specialist at Presence. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.