Perceptions of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belongingness at an HBCU: Implications and Applications for Faculty

Perceptions of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belongingness at an HBCU: Implications and Applications for Faculty

Matthew A. Hiatt, Alison Mc Letchie, Anisah B. Bagasra, Deborah L. Laufersweiler-Dwyer, Mitchell Mackinem
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5724-1.ch011
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Most studies about inclusion of traditional minority groups and women on university campuses have been conducted at Predominantly White Institutions with student populations. This chapter focuses on the experiences, perceptions, and implications of diversity, belongingness, and inclusion of faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Data collected from students, staff, and faculty highlight the diversity and positive climate at HBCUs but indicate that there are important differences in how particular groups perceive inclusion. This chapter offers suggestions on how faculty and HBCUs can celebrate diversity and yet acknowledge, discuss, and act against the negative experiences that shape feelings of inclusion. The authors emphasize the role of HBCUs in standing for and leading discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
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Historical Context and Role of HBCUs

HBCUs were founded over 150 years ago for the purpose of educating free Blacks and later newly emancipated Blacks for whom entry into most existing universities—and, indeed, most formal education—was denied them. HBCUs have a long history of valuing diversity and often attempt to serve as a refuge from racial bias (Foster, 2001). Many HBCUs were established by White Christian missionaries who undertook the task of helping Blacks attain the educational qualification that would allow them opportunities for social mobility (Cantey, Bland, Mack, & Joy-Davis, 2011; Redd, 1998). Several of these institutions were forced to address the diverse needs of the Black population who, upon the declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation, could now legally learn to read. Most of these schools were established in the South where the majority of Blacks lived. The first groups of students enrolled at these institutions varied in age, ability, goals, and purpose, and the schools themselves were—and still are—just as varied. In an effort to address the needs of these early alumni, some of these institutions included elementary, high, and trade schools and seminaries. As time passed many of these schools adjusted their structure and the majors they offered to duplicate the curricula of Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs).

Initially, HBCUs were staffed overwhelmingly by White administrators and instructors while their student body was almost exclusively Black. Over time, as more Blacks obtained advanced degrees, they often returned to these schools as faculty and staff since employment at PWIs remained closed to all but a few Black scholars. In the 1930s and 1940s, many HBCUs also employed Jewish professors who had fled Nazi Europe but who were often denied employment by PWIs because of their religion. These schools employed large numbers of non-native born scholars of Color particularly those from the Caribbean, Africa, and various parts of Asia. Thus, unlike PWIs, HBCUs became sites for diversity especially regarding its faculty and staff.

There are currently more than 100 HBCUs in 19 states, and while they were originally founded to educate Black students, over time their student bodies have become more racially diverse. Although the student population at most HBCUs remains overwhelmingly Black (76%), non-Black students make up 19% of enrollment at HBCUs with White students accounting for 13% (Gasman, 2013). Two HBCUs—namely, Bluefield State College and West Virginia State University (both in West Virginia)—serve a majority White student body. The HBCU designation is a legal definition established by the Higher Education Act of 1965 that is not tied to the composition of the student body but the reasons they were established. But even on campuses with majority Black student populations, there has always been diversity.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A federally defined term used to describe schools that were historically established in order to educate African Americans. Because at the time of their founding, Blacks were typically denied entry into institutions of higher education, especially publicly funded colleges and universities.

Campus Climate: The prevailing or dominate culture which reflects values, ideals, goals, and purpose of the institution.

Sexual Minority: Non-heterosexual.

Sense of Belonging: The feeling of connectedness the individual has with a culture, system, or institution.

Discrimination: Overt and covert behavior directed to individuals and groups intending to exclude, demean, or impose upon them extra requirements or otherwise deny them access from resources.

Predominantly White Institutions: Universities or colleges that typically have majority White student bodies.

Minority Serving Institutions: A federally defined term used to describe schools that historically have majority non-White student populations.

Transgender: The gender presentation, performance, identity, attitudes, and values that is not limited to traditional categories of “man” and “women” but expands, includes, merges, rejects, and invents different ways of being sexual.

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