The Importance of Black Male Collegians' Conceptualizing Student Success at Historically White Institutions

The Importance of Black Male Collegians' Conceptualizing Student Success at Historically White Institutions

Rodney Bates (University of Oklahoma, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5990-0.ch010


This chapter looks at how Black male collegians define success during their college enrollment. However, a relatively small amount of literature addresses how Black males' experiences are related to conceptions of collegiate success. Definitions of “success” vary by institution, but regardless of definition, most institutions neglect to include Black male collegians in defining, creating, or collaborating in the development of collegiate conceptions of success. Their ideas have the potential to nuance institutional assumptions and/or expand institutional frames of student success. By understanding Black males' conceptions of success, institutions can (re-)evaluate strategies that contribute to the overall success of Black male collegians and potentially all college students.
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Black Male Collegians And Historical White Institutions

Black1 male college students face significant challenges at historically white2 institutions3 (HWIs). Some of those challenges include being excluded from or expected to “fit in” in an environment that views Black males as threatening, less intelligent than other groups, and in college only for athletic purposes (Fries-Britt, 1997; Gibbs, 1988; Harper, 2009; Strayhorn, 2008, 2009). When Black male collegians debunk these negative stereotypes, they risk being seen by their peers as being passive, “acting white,” or being a “sellout” (Ogbu, 2004). Black male collegians are faced with defending themselves against stereotypes of being more threatening, and are viewed as property rather than humans by institutions of higher education (Clotfelter, 2011; Engstrom, Sedlacek, & McEwen, 1995). Athletic departments, specifically revenue-generating programs, continue to benefit greatly from sports that are played predominantly by Black males, who not only carry most of the brand recognition for the program but also carry the most physical load and receive little and unequal compensation (Clotfelter, 2011). Black males are viewed as less intelligent, and when they do excel in academic work, they are likely to be seen as “the exception to the rule” or to be “accused unfairly of cheating or plagiarism because the quality of [their] work far exceeds the expectations of a professor” (Strayhorn, 2008b, p. 377). Even when Black males engage in sports, the narrative that “student-athletes of color are in college only to play and not to learn” creates a perception of them that is monolithic; they are simply bodies that work rather than learners and future professionals (Harper, Williams Jr, & Blackman, 2013). These stereotypes are barriers to Black collegians’ academic success, and they create false narratives about Black males in higher education. Due to these negative associations, Black male collegians experience a greater burden of stress and mental exhaustion than their white peers (Smith, Hung, & Franklin, 2011).

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