Skip to comments.Black college students at predominantly white campuses feel internal cultural tension
Posted on 07/21/2013 7:03:16 AM PDT by T-Bird45
NORMAN When George Lee first came to the University of Oklahoma in 2009, he felt out of place.
Lee, who is black, grew up in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood in Bryan, Texas, near College Station. But when he arrived at OU, he said, he felt pressure to change how he spoke and acted to integrate himself into the dominant culture.
He felt like he couldn't be the same person he'd been in his old neighborhood, he said. He felt like he was being asked to trade part of his blackness for the values and characteristics of the dominant white culture on campus.
There had to be some type of a trade-off, Lee said.
The idea of double consciousness when a person's identity is divided between two cultures isn't new. Sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois explored the idea in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. But a new study suggests the conflict remains for many black college students today.
According to records from the National Center for Education Statistics, 64 percent of OU's undergraduates in the fall 2011 semester were white. Just 5 percent of undergraduates in 2011 were black.
At Oklahoma State University, 73 percent of undergraduates in 2011 were white, while only 5 percent were black.
According to a recent study published in the National Communication Association's journal, Communication Education, black students at predominantly white universities still often struggle to assimilate themselves into a culture they see as different from their own.
The study consisted of six focus groups spread out over three universities a major Midwestern university in a small, rural community; a major Midwestern private university in a larger city; and a major Southwestern public university in a small metropolitan area. At each of the three schools, black students made up 8 percent or less of the overall student population.
According to the study, many of the students reported feeling an internal tension between remaining proud of their own culture and altering their own language or culture to adapt to the perceived whiteness of their universities.
That inner conflict continues when those students return home, according to the report. Of the 67 students involved in the focus groups, 52 were first-generation college students. Those students reported their families didn't have an understanding of the students' college experiences and the desire for a college degree.
One student reported feeling out of place during a summer family reunion, according to the report.
I want to make it, have a job ... and they keep asking why I'm not married, the student said. I don't even bother explaining the idea that I am preparing myself for law school.
Lee, an African American Studies major at OU, said he notices that difference when he returns to Texas and talks to family and neighbors in the neighborhood where he grew up. Family and friends treat him with greater privilege, he said. He's also more aware of the poverty and drug use in the neighborhood than he was while he was growing up, he said.
One of the study's authors said colleges and universities need to do a better job of engaging black college students and their communities.
Jake Simmons, a professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, said schools could help alleviate that tension by implementing programs that reach out not only to students, but also to their families and home communities to let them know what's happening on campus.
Simmons said universities could also develop multicultural programs that do a better job of representing the entirety of students' home cultures, rather than simply holding a stereotypical celebration for major holidays.
Spencer Davis, an OU student from Tulsa, said he's felt the conflict between his own heritage and the surrounding culture since before he came to OU. Davis, who is black, attended Jenks High School, which is predominantly white.
Davis, 19, is a second-generation college student his father graduated from OU and his mother has a degree from the University of Tulsa.
When Davis was in high school, it was obvious that he was in the minority, he said. He felt the internal conflict between his heritage and his surroundings then, he said, but he adopted the speech patterns and culture of the people around him.
After a while, Davis realized he wasn't totally comfortable speaking with other black people, he said. When he came to OU, his social network broadened to include friends from several races. But he still feels like he belongs to multiple groups, leaving him to figure out where he fits.
It hasn't really impeded me, he said. I've definitely managed to navigate it now.
There's the problem right there. He's not tackling a serious subject that takes serious work and time. He spends his time racially navel-gazing and that's making him crazy.
Step 1 in the Racially Obsessed Anonymous program is to drop African American Studies and take up something serious, chemistry, foreign languages, mathematics, engineering or some other tough subject. Step 2: Stop focusing on yourself. Step 3: Start preparing yourself for the future and a real job, where you have to work.
If George Lee doesn’t want to change why is he attempting to gain higher education? I think you go to school to change yourself in many ways. If all he wants is to be ‘Black’ then he achieved that when he was born.
This irony continually surprises me. Some of the most successful blacks are the biggest whiners. Rather than proclaim, "I did it, so can you, and here's how", they whine about how black people never get a fair shake and are profiled and discriminated against at every turn. They're walking dichotomies.
What a serious bunch of can't take what they dish out whiners. Reminds me of Palistinians who will only finally feel at peace when those mean old jews are all dead and their childrens throats cut. And all the other Shiites and Sunni infidels and French and Americans and...
So, he was an “African-American Studies major”? Just what kind of job does that prepare him for? Some sort of affirmative action political position?
Of course, the university is as much to blame as he is for even offering such a major. What worse could they do for their back students than that, although the pretense is the opposite, that they are being very respectful of them and their black culture.
The pancake batter was already made and the griddle was hot so it didn’t take long...LOL. As you can see, I’ve made one further comment up the thread but the irritation I feel as an Oklahoma taxpayer about such nonsense is beyond civil words. It is further irritating that OU went to TX to find this specimen and expend my taxes in an obviously futile effort to raise him from his circumstances. He seems determined to “keep it real.”
Same here. I grew up in a small rural town in South Georgia. Went to UGA and spent the better part of my career in NYC.
What a fascinating article.
Your post says volumes...a healthy bit of intellectual curiosity, but an even larger willingness to get on with things.
Of course the left could never put up with this sort of thing catching on.
I found the same thing. Left my (white) working class home and friends (we talked like the cast of jersey shore) and found at university that I sounded like a buffoon, so adjusted my speech and behavior.
I believe the process is called EDUCATION
yea!well I guess now they know what its like to be a white student in a predominantly black educational system,like I was during the sixties an seventies.
it was not a good educational experience.
Parents,Keep your kids out of the Public School Systems.Espechially those in the inner city.
Friend of mine teaches in Birmingham Alabama says the students couldn’t care less about learning and just plain don’t care
yeah am I supposed to still say goo goo gaga after I am in college? How am I going to be a doctor or accountant if I won’t learn the vocab?
How do you think I feel since the little whiner was FROM here? LOL!
IMHO, the world has seemed to have forgotten certain 'true-isms'. Things like - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.
Maybe we should call this bunch The Frightened Generation. A lot of them sure seem to need a great deal of handholding.
I felt a lot of pressure the other day while filling out an application for classes, to state what race I am.
I feel a lot of pressure to explain to my kids why being Mexican, especially an illegal, is a much better position from which to be selected for college, and to get a scholarship, instead of being white like they are.
They just don’t feel the urge to hate themselves because people in some stupid economic decision making hundreds of years ago went with the asinine trend to use slave labor and to push for its legality, nor because idiots acted on racial prejudice rampantly, 50 years ago.
They would rather feel encouraged that they can do whatever they want to do in life, like their great grandparents who built New York City as bricklayers and elevator constructors who put their kids through college, the military academies, engineering programs to help lead corporations like Motorola and Coca Cola and Schering Plough, regardless of the street fighting and snobby (perhaps somewhat deserved) stigma against their Irish nationality.
So, there’s pressure there to hate themselves for being white that they’re also bombarded with in classes who hammer this stuff in with months of study of the Holocaust, slavery etc, and that’s just in eighth grade. Oh, and, of course with no mention of the holocaust occurring under their noses, of their friends, brothers and sisters, 55 million killed in this country since 1973, which, if we ever climb out of this morass, will pale Hitler’s killing of a mere 6 million.
Of course now they’re in a good school learning what they should be learning - the classics, chemistry, language western civ. But there’s pressure coming for them to feel bad about all of this when they get out into college, and the workworld.
They don’t buy the lie that it’s not racist for the country to hate white people.
Young people are much more logical than they get credit for, and much more logical than adults whose work and college environments have corrupted them into being.
But it’s pressure for a parent to make sense out of this for them. Why the Mexican (non white Latina) who roars off in her mother’s new Escalade gets no questions asked scholarship money while they happily tumble into the old military salary bought Camry.
Waffles for us
Just curious, what culture calls a baby stroller a perambulator?
My kids came home from Africa to enroll in public school in a southern city which has a 67% black population. Our son was the only white boy in his class.
Now THAT was culture shock!
BTW, our son was the first white child seen by the tribe with whom we worked. Different skin color was nothing new to him. However, in many ways, he was closer to the culture of those Uganda villages than to that of a predominantly “African-American” USA elementary school.
Not really built-in.
When you are taught to play the victim for cash and goodies from Whitey, you actually start to believe you are a victim...and victims are, by their very nature, needy and inferior (or they wouldn't be victims).