Cookman Wildcats, Community or Chaos?

amanda wilkerson

Amanda Wilkerson


During the month of January, we pay special honor to Dr. Martin Luther King. King was a talented theologian, civil rights giant, and an American hero. His leadership on many causes became a template to fight against injustice in the pursuit of equality. Some might argue that a fight is upon the horizon for Bethune Cookman University’s solvency as its managerial forces determine who will be next in leading the beachside historically Black college against the backdrop of a tide of trouble. My own view is, Bethune Cookman University (BCU) requires a leader who has command of academic provocations; management of fleeting fiscal resources; brilliancy in donations development; and, I suspect, an uncommon skill–supervision of Dr. Mary Bethune’s legacy.

Make no mistake, BCU is in the midst of an existential crisis. Many have noted the symptoms of this salacious critical point. Others have documented the causes of the dilemma. I seek to enter the conversation in order to discuss how BCU should move forward. I do so under the veil and vision of Dr. King. It is important to consider King’s laudable leadership regarding his social justice advocacy. Though the circumstances that face BCU is intimidating, I often wonder how its stakeholders can acknowledge and apply King’s leadership. Could BCU harness the prophetic modernity of King’s work within the context of the ever-present opportunity to overcome challenges that pervade the Wildcat community; annihilate its a crewed achievements; or dismantle distinctions that have set BCU apart and moved the institution ahead?

As I consider King’s life’s work it forces me to question, what is the dream we have for Bethune Cookman University? I am torn between the shattered sacrifices of a woman that gave her all to ensure that, initially, little black girls could be formally educated juxtaposed to the modern realities of an academic establishment dedicated to educational equality. We see the triumph of Dr. Bethune’s sacrifice, yet the truth is her legacy is marred with nearly a decade’s worth of struggles. Suffice to say, BCU requires a vision that sustains and supports the sacrifices of such a celebrated founder.

The pride of those that want to ensure that the university’s legacy exists for generations to come can be accomplished. It is, therefore, with urgency that I put forward three points of view that I feel will serve as sources of inspiration for the Cookman contingency as it fights for the soul of its storied school.

There any many facts that exist about Bethune Cookman, what do you have faith for?

First, the good book specifically clarifies that we walk by faith and not by sight. In other words, the fortitude necessary for the way forward is a faith walk. Not to be confused with empty religious piety that bring(s) on powerless paralysis. A faith walk is about the ability to reflectively position one’s thoughts on what is best while having the reflexivity to move work in a direction where faith, causes an effect on facts.

Second, rid your institution of individuals who love Cookman but don’t have the knowledge, skills, or the expertise to guide a modern-day university into a successful learning metropolis. This goes above and beyond a call of action to denounce current leadership, or demonize board oversight. To the contrary, it is important to solicit the input of stakeholders to determine key characteristics needed to advance avenues for maneuvering Bethune’s last will and testament. The expectation is that Bethune Cookman University was founded for the enrichment of the community in which it resides. This is not to say that outside investigations, or reviews of administrative missteps won’t help the school, but rather fixing the institution will be the work of those who have the skills and stand in solidarity with the institution.

Finally, I take a different approach from the aforementioned prescriptive points to conclude with an inquiry. What kind of mindset will it take to overcome the obstacles observed? Bethune Cookman University is an educational powerhouse that has served its community for 115 years. As an empowerment agent, how will Wildcats challenge the structures that signal its demise while balancing transforming the school into a beacon of light and transitioning out of the

Jackson Era? I suspect that the answers to my questions will not come easy and the approach to my probe will require more than a strategic plan. Nevertheless, the present discourses present an opportunity to counter stratify and write a new narrative.

For many reading this article, the call to salvage the predicament facing Bethune Cookman University is profoundly personal. Current students love the school and benefit from its nurturing environment. Alumni relish in the reclamation of a campus culture that seeded their dreams and situated their destinies. No matter if you are faculty, student, staff, administrator or alumni, all believe in the power and promise of Bethune Cookman, including this FAMU Rattler. As I wrote earlier it is not enough to evoke an examination of the problem. It also not enough to practice a scorched earth framework pitting the tutelage of Mary’s legacy against each other. What is central to the work of Bethune Cookman’s forward march is a deep investigation of Dr. King’s work for which he questioned, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.” I look forward, to the community all Cookman Wildcats will build to dramatically curtail chaos.

Amanda Wilkerson is the director of the Urban Teaching Initiatives Project at the University of Central Florida in the College of Community Innovation and Education. Additionally, she has written educational materials and coordinated forums on significant social, pedagogical, and educational equity matters. Prolific social justice advocate and scholar, Dr. Wilkerson serves as guest editor for the Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals Journal-Hillard Sizemore Special Edition, and Co-Editor of From Student to Scholar: How Colleges of Education Mentor Underserved Doctoral Students; A project of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Recently, Wilkerson served as the partnership committee chair for the Parramore Innovation Education District initiative. As a part of her passion for higher education, Amanda is enhancing how students seize the promise of a post-secondary education through access.

It’s Time to Put an End to HBCU Gatekeeping


Brandy Jones

“We can joke like that, but you can’t.”

Last year, I overheard friendly banter between three HBCU alumni about which HBCU is better Howard, Morehouse, or North Carolina Central University. I chuckled listening to my colleagues talk about institutions as if they were competitive sporting teams and sat quietly not sure how I could contribute to the conversation — having been a graduate of a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I watched as they compared homecomings and joked about the quality of entertainment that happened over the weekend of events that brought so many Black alumni together each year. As I giggled listening in, one of my colleagues looked to me and said clearly, “we can joke like that, but you can’t.” I was taken back by that statement and yet it provoked some thought.

My first job after graduating college was working for the first historically Black college, Cheyney University. And, although a couple of my family members and friends attended HBCUs, I had not experienced what it was like to attend a college with a mission that centers on my identity or to go to a school where people who looked like me made up more than 8% of the student population. I never attended a homecoming that was exciting or thrilling enough to return and never experienced going to class and being amongst the majority. The truth is I am an outsider.

That day was monumental for me because it allowed me to understand the invisible boundaries that have the potential to influence my work as someone who aspires to do higher education research and research particularly related to HBCUs. I experienced these gatekeepers at my first job at Cheyney; when I was considered untrustworthy because I had not attended an HBCU. I experienced it as a person working at a research center focused on highlighting institutions like HBCUs, which serve students of color and provide avenues of educational attainment for students — many who look just like me, come from low-income backgrounds, and whose parents never stepped foot on a college campus prior to graduation. I understand the hesitation to feel protective of HBCUs as they are hubs of culture and centers of Black excellence, yet have been underfunded, undersupported, and perceived as inferior institutions by many outsiders. I get it. I know and believe like many HBCU alumni that HBCUs must be protected at all costs.

I may not have attended an HBCU, primarily as a result of a lack of information as a first-generation college student, a desire to stay close to home, and because it was cheapest to go to my state’s flagship institution, but I am not the enemy. I am not here to penetrate any HBCU camaraderie nor claim to comprehend what the HBCU experience is like. I want to share the value and significance of these institutions having worked so closely with the students that these institutions have transformed. We must end this HBCU vs. PWI debate and build community regardless of the choice of your undergraduate institution. I may be an outsider, but I am not an adversary. In a country where the value of the educational institutions are under constant questioning and the HBCU list is dwindling, HBCUs (and their alumni) cannot continue to gatekeep who is able to advocate for these incredible institutions.

Brandy Jones is the Assistant Director for Communications at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also currently pursuing an M.S.Ed in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania. 

TCUs Addressing Native American Mental Health Disparities

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Rachel Bryan

It is too often that we see headlines about celebrity suicides, but these articles rarely help us to understand the impact of suicide in various communities. Did you know that Native American suicide rates are 10 to 20 times higher than the US national average and higher than all other racial/ethnic groups? In addition to coping with “a history of race-based policy, discrimination, and oppression,” Native American communities also experience high rates of substance abuse, sexual assault, and violence, all of which are intertwined with mental health. Native Americans need access to resources that are specific to supporting their mental health, and thankfully, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are responding to this call. Understanding that Native American students attending TCUs have to adjust to college life while coping with the struggles of their communities, TCUs are offering resources including psychological counseling, drug and substance abuse services, sexual assault and domestic violence services, and family counseling.

Fortunately, many TCUs have begun to offer basic psychological counseling, also referred to as personal counseling. For example, institutions including the College of the Muscogee Nation, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Haskell Indian Nations University, the Institute for American Indian and Alaska Native Culture/Institute for the American Indian Arts, Sinte Gleska University, Oglala Lakota College, Salish Kootenai College, Sitting Bull College, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Stone Child College, and United Tribes Technical College are among the TCUs that offer their students psychological counseling. These centers are prepared to address a wide variety of psychological issues that are overrepresented in the Native American population, such as PTSD and depression.   

Additionally, many TCUs are offering counseling specific to drug and substance abuse, since Native Americans “use and abuse alcohol and other drugs at younger ages, and at higher rates, than all other ethnic groups.” For example, College of the Muscogee Nation, Navajo Technical University, Sinte Gleska University, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Stone Child College, Turtle Mountain Community College, and United Tribes Technical college all provide services specific to drug and substance abuse. These services include workshops, personal counseling, group counseling, education programs, resources, and referrals to community resources.

Sadly, 84% of Native American women have experienced violence, with more than half experiencing domestic or sexual violence. In addition, the United States Department of Justice “declined to prosecute more than half of the cases of violence on Indian Country, and of the cases, 67 percent of them were sexual violence.” Of those that were not declined, only 13% led to arrests. Fortunately, TCUs including Oglala Lakota College, Salish Kootenai College, and United Tribes Technical College all provide services related to sexual assault and domestic violence. These services include educational programs, victim assistance, counseling, and referrals.

Family is an important value in Native American culture, some TCUs have extended their mental health resources to the immediate family members of their students. For example, United Tribes Technical College, and the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Culture, also known as the Institute of the American Indian Arts, offer family counseling. Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College also has a Student Family Support Center, which provides resources to students “trying to balance the responsibilities of parenting, family, and work with the goals of achieving a college education and maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” though these resources are specific to students. Family access is key because those in more rural and isolated Native American communities can experience difficulty when seeking mental health resources.

In sum, while not all TCUs are offering mental health services, many are addressing the mental needs of the Native American community. It is important to remember that these resources may not be available at all TCUs due to funding, capacity, and the lack of these resources does not necessarily reflect the TCUs’ stance on mental health. For TCUs that are offering mental health resources, I encourage you to advertise it clearly on your website and be proud that you are providing services that both expand and nurture the minds of your students!


American Psychiatric Association & Office of Minority and National Affairs. (2010). Mental Health Disparities: American Indians and Alaska Natives. Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention & United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Fact sheet: Health disparities in suicide. Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). CDC Fatal Injury Reports, 2004-2013. Retrieved from

Conrad, C., & Gasman, M. (2015). Educating a diverse nation: Lessons from minority-serving institutions. Harvard University Press.

Peterson-Hickey, M. (2015). American Indians, Mental Health, and the Influence of History. Retrieved from

Racine, E. (2017). #NotInvisible: The Plight of Native American Women and Sexual Violence Lakota People’s Law Project. Retrieved from

Student Family Support Center. (2018). Retrieved from

Serving ALL Latinxs: Recognizing Racial and Ethnic Heterogeneity at HSIs


Audrey D. Paredes

In late October 2018, a caravan of an estimated 4,000 asylum seekers began their journeys from Honduras to the United States. These migrants, like many other Central Americans who have sought asylum in the U.S., seek to escape extreme poverty, violence, and political repression. As I write this piece, they continue their thousands of miles long journey, mostly by foot, through Central America and Mexico while facing discrimination, extreme violence, and some even death. As the daughter of immigrants from Guatemala, I too am familiar with the intergenerational stories of displacement, trauma, and survival that exists within the Central American immigrant community that now resides in the U.S.

In recent years the field of higher education has witnessed an increase in research and advocacy that focuses on the experiences of Latinx students and recommendations for institutions to improve access, retention, and campus climate. However, through my literature searches, I have found that most of the research in the field focuses only on the umbrella group of “Latinx” or “Chicanx” students. While the focus on Latinx or Chicanx students is reasonable and understood, I argue that higher education scholars and practitioners invested in creating equity for Latinxs must be intentional in who and how they are defining as “Latinx” students in their data collection, assessment, programming, and student support. Scholar, Vasti Torres, argued this as well in her 2004 article in which she urged scholars to pay close attention to the “diversity among us”[1]. The push to recognize racial and ethnic heterogeneity is not new to the field of higher education. Scholars, such as Robert Teranishi[2] (focusing on Asian American and Pacific Islander students) and Chrystal A. George Mwangi[3] (focusing on Black immigrant students) have long been advocates for data disaggregation and specificity in educational research so that we may push the needle and have a clearer understanding of the nuances that make up historically marginalized students’ identities, realities, and relations to systems of power.

The short anecdote that I began this piece with is just one of the unique contemporary and historical phenomena that Central Americans have encountered in their transnational experiences. Although there is limited literature on Central Americans in the field of education, scholars in other fields and disciplines have found that Central Americans often feel invisible and misrepresented because of the lack of knowledge that exists about their communities, identities, and experiences[4]. It is also important to note that a significant number of Central Americans embody characteristics of refugees, more so than economic migrants (as they are typically considered or referred to)[5]. These few examples should be relevant to us in higher education because it highlights the unique nuances of the experiences of Central American students and their families as they navigate higher education and society. Although I offer Central Americans as an example because of my own personal experience as a Guatemalan first-generation student, recognizing racial and ethnic heterogeneity is important for all groups that identify with the larger “Latinx” categorization that is typically used by institutions of higher education to identify students.

As the number of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) continues to grow, HSIs have the potential to become leaders across all institutions (HSI or not) in recognizing Latinx racial and ethnic heterogeneity amongst its student populations. Similarly, scholars who are invested in interrogating what it means to truly “serve” at HSIs can dramatically shape the field of higher education by being intentional on who makes up these specific student populations and urging other scholars to do so as well. It is important to note that Latinxs are ethnically AND racially heterogeneous. For example, it is problematic to treat students as Black or Latinx or having students only select one-checkbox when providing demographic data, ignoring the fact they may embody both (or more) identities and realities at the same time. Relatedly, as is the case for some members of the Central American community living in the U.S., some students and their families are members of indigenous communities in Central America and therefore might not speak English nor Spanish and have an entirely different experience than non-indigenous Central Americans. Latinx students differ in language, socio-economic status, immigrant and citizenship status, familial educational backgrounds, racial backgrounds, and many other characteristics. Therefore, we must be careful in not applying a one-size-fits-all “culture” to Latinx students in hopes of supporting them but ultimately falling short.

HSIs can be leaders by highlighting racial and ethnic heterogeneity by urging their offices to collect and utilize data in a disaggregated manner (if not done so already) by country of origin, language, and immigrant and citizenship status. Collecting data in a disaggregated manner allows us to have a refined picture of who our students are to avoid harmful misunderstandings of student needs.  HSIs can also be mindful in how they approach cultural programming such as events and festivities that take place on campus. As a report by The Racial Heterogeneity Project states, “the assumption that the Mexican American experience is the definitive Latino experience is inaccurate”[6]; therefore, when institutions only use uniquely Mexican cultural markers for campus celebrations, non-Mexican identifying students feel left out or unseen by their institution. A method of serving for an HSI can be in making sure their Latinx students, all Latinx students, feel seen and represented.

As a graduate of an HSI, I have a first-hand understanding of the potential and promise that many HSIs are able to fulfill for its Latinx students and its overall student body. I believe that through highlighting and embracing the “diversity among us”[7] to best understand student needs, successes, and experiences of Latinx students, HSIs can become stronger in serving and become institutional leaders as we aim to build racial equity for historically marginalized student groups.

Audrey D. Paredes is a Ph.D. student in the Social Science and Comparative Education Division specializing in Race and Ethnic Studies in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is a research associate for the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education and the Center for Critical Race Studies in Education. Her research interests include racial stratification and equity in higher education and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). Audrey earned a B.A. in Gender, Ethnicity, and Multicultural Studies from Cal Poly Pomona and an M.A. from UCLA. 

[1] Torres, V. (2004). The diversity among us: Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Caribbean Americans, and Central and South Americans. New Directions for Student Services, (105), 5-16.

[2]Teranishi, R., Lok, L., & Nguyen, B.D. (2013). iCount: A Data Quality Movement for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education. New York, NY: CARE Project.

[3] George Mwangi, C.A. (2014). Complicating Blackness: Black immigrants & racial positioning in US higher education. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis3(2), 3.

[4] Yarbrough, R. A. (2010). Becoming “Hispanic” in the “new South”: Central American immigrants’ racialization experiences in Atlanta, GA, USA. GeoJournal, 75(3), 249-260.; Lavadenz, M. (2005). Como hablar en silencio (like speaking in silence): issues for language, culture, and identity of central americans in los angeles. In Zentella, A. C. (Ed.). (2005). Building on strength: Language and literacy in Latino families and communities. Teachers College Press.

[5] Menjivar, C. (2006). Liminal legality: Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants’ lives in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 111(4), 999-1037.

[6] Nguyen, B. M. D., Alcantar, C. M., Curammeng, E., Hernandez, E., Kim, V., Paredes, A., Nguyen, M., & Teranishi, R. T. (2017). The Racial Heterogeneity Project: Implications for Higher Education Research, Practice, and Policy. Los Angeles, CA: The Institute for Immigration, Globalization, & Education.

[7] Torres, V. (2004). The diversity among us: Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Caribbean Americans, and Central and South Americans. New Directions for Student Services, (105), 5-16.

Racial Inclusivity at Hispanic Serving Institutions

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Alyse Gray Parker

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) are here to stay. In the United States, HSIs account for 492 universities in 21 states and Puerto Rico. This number will continue to grow. According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), there are 333 “emerging” HSIs, where full-time Hispanic students make up 15-24.9% of total enrollment.

As the number of HSIs continues to rise, so will the diversity of students these institutions serve. HSIs range from large flagship universities to local community colleges and small private universities. As a Black student attending an HSI —The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), I have reflected on my experiences attending an institution and living in a city where many people have brown skin like me, but aren’t like me. This experience has been enlightening, exciting, frustrating and deeply perceptive, all at once. There are probably many other Black students attending HSIs that are having similar experiences. However, that experience does not need to be a negative one. HSIs have the ability to serve many populations of students who are often underrepresented in higher education.

At UTSA, Black students make up 9% of the student population. Hispanic students make up 53% of the student population. For HSIs like UTSA where the student population is of a similar makeup, their challenge is making an inclusive environment for not only their majority Hispanic student population, but other underrepresented students. This can be difficult, as it can easily become an argument of who is more marginalized. Further, many HSIs are still Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). To address these complexities, institutions can be deliberate in facilitating meaningful conversations that result in real change.

Different views of intergroup race relations on campuses that are majority Hispanic are another aspect to the conversation of racial inclusivity. A 2008 study by Pew research found through a survey on intergroup relations that a majority of Black and Hispanic respondents said the groups get along very or fairly well, but Hispanics were significantly more likely than Blacks to say that intergroup relations were strained. While this is just one piece of research on the specific inter-group relations, it can lead us to consider and even understand why certain conversations may or may not occur between the two groups on campus. Partnerships between different student cultural groups or offices on campus can facilitate these conversations while simultaneously encouraging university support and inclusivity of all students.

Further research on Black students at HSIs can also assist in moving the conversation forward. For example in their 2012 chapter, Richard Reddick and Julian Vaquez write about how the impact of attending an HSI affects Black male students through a qualitative lens[1]. They found that black male students found their own community at their institution and still had to navigate institutional and systemic racism in the higher education system. Additional research focused on these topics can help our understanding of how HSIs serve multiple populations of students.

HSIs are in a position to become champions of student diversity and inclusion in today’s higher education landscape. Having a Black face in a brown space myself, I have taken the opportunity to learn about cultures I did not have access to before – especially coming from Central Ohio where the student population can look quite homogenous, especially on a college campus. Administrators, faculty, and staff at HSIs should create spaces for intergroup dialogue focused on race. Open dialogue on issues such as race can help students empathize with and relate to one another on an individualized level as well as create community.

Large or small, public or private, HSIs are diverse in both institutional makeup and student population. It can be easy to leave out students on campus regardless of student population size, but HSIs have a unique opportunity to serve as an environment to develop innovative and inclusive diversity practices. Yes, many students at HSIs are students of color, but we must remember that there is diversity among students of color. Taking advantage of this opportunity will be key for leaders at HSIs to continue successful outcomes at their institutions.

[1] Reddick, R. J., Heilig, J. V., & Valdez, P. L. (2012). Bridging a Black-Brown Divide: Black Male Students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions In A. A. Hilton, J. L. Wood, & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), Black males in postsecondary education: Examining their experiences in diverse institutional contexts, (pp. 183-208). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Alyse Gray Parker is currently a Ph.D. student at The University of Texas at San Antonio in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration in Higher Education. Alyse has previously worked as a policy intern with the Lumina Foundation, at Trinity University in the Office of Disability Services and as a school psychologist for Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Alyse completed her B.A. and M.A. at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include federal and state higher education policy related to affordability, Minority Serving Institutions, and access and equity issues in higher education.


Black Faces in White Spaces: Unearthing the Racialized and Gendered Experiences of Black Women Residential Assistants

A. Hardaway

Ayana Hardaway

Banana found on door handle of black students’ dorm; White Student charged with contaminating Black roommate’s belongings with bodily fluids; “We’re really scared”: Students on edge as racial slur found on campus.

These headlines represent several of many news headlines which have surfaced over the last year representing the types of racially charged incidents occurring on college campuses nationwide. During the tumultuous presidential campaign leading up to the most recent election in 2017, the United States experienced an uprising in domestic discriminatory and racial attacks. These occurrences resulted in an eruption of violence, murders, and protests, which were recorded and streamed on social media. Inevitably, such occurrences also affected U.S. universities across the nation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of reported campus hate crimes increased by 25 percent from 2015 to 2016. Additionally, college-specific data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, suggests the election itself played a role in the influx of reported cases. Incidents on campuses have included physical harassment, microaggressions, vandalism accompanied by racial symbols or slurs, and hate speech. Such occurrences have resulted in Black students, and other historically marginalized groups on campuses, to cope by drawing on various methods of resistance; such as staging protests on campus, and raising their voices when slighted.

When incidents like these take place within residential living communities, Resident Assistants (RAs) typically stand at the front lines. RAs are tasked with the responsibility of upholding inclusive and safe spaces where students live while having the ability to recognize a crisis and follow proper university protocol to manage that crisis. As a former RA at a predominantly White institution (PWI), I was also on the front lines and can recall feeling challenged and having my authority questioned, mostly by my White residents. It was unbeknownst to me at the time if the push-back I was experiencing was because I was a woman, because I was Black, or both. These experiences occurred over a decade ago and caused me to wonder: What are the current experiences of Black women RAs who need to support others while experiencing multiple forms of oppression themselves as a result of their leadership role, race and gender?

After consulting the higher education literature, here’s what I discovered:

Research on Black RAs is Limited: Currently, educational scholarship questioning how African American students navigate racism on college campuses as part of their leadership roles are underexplored. Furthermore, scholarship centering Black women employed in the RA role are explored even less. Shaun Harper’s 2011 study on the experiences of Black male RAs at PWIs confirm that while RAs are provided with the tools to address common challenges, “there are problematic, race-specific others that have gone undisclosed in previous research and consequently unaddressed in residence life departments.” Overall, most of the published research on the experiences of RAs documents raceless accounts of challenges faced by RAs. 

RAs are Undertrained: A great deal of responsibility and risk come hand in hand with being an RA. Research has acknowledged the ways in which RAs, who are some of the most important employees in higher-ed, are often the most undertrained. As a result, traditional RA training is primarily focused on providing strategies to help students address commonly known challenges within their residence halls. Subsequently, conflict addressing issues of racism are avoided. The research which centers the experiences of Black students complicates these challenges and only confirm that there is more to be learned within residence life departments. Given the current racial tensions on campuses, more research on the racialized experiences of RAs are warranted for institutions to provide the trainings needed to support Black students serving in these roles.

Black Women RAs Need Support: In their 2017 study, which explored the intersectional experiences of Black women RAs, Ericka Roland and Vonzell Agosto’s findings alluded to the challenges students face on campus due to the shift in the nation’s political and racial climate. Specifically, the study reported that an increase in campus racial microaggressions became more visible after the killings of unarmed Black men and the Black Lives Matter movement. Black women RAs reported feeling that due to their gender and race, they struggled with facilitating dialogue around current events and racial issues with White residents.

Black women college students share a collective history of discrimination and marginalization within systems of higher education. Unlike their Black men and White women counterparts, these women share a unique social location in their racial and gender identity where they experience multiple types of oppression from dominant groups and the target groups in which they are socially assigned. My research seeks to unpack these intersections for Black women RAs.

While my current research explicitly explores these experiences at PWIs, my future research agenda seeks to explore the experiences of Black women RAs at HBCUs (another area which has been underexplored within the higher education literature). HBCUs are experiencing a surge in enrollment. According to Marybeth Gasman, Director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, freshman enrollment is up 40% at HBCUs due to the recent national episodes of racial unrest. HBCUs often highlight their ability to create inclusive campus climates through cultivating meaningful relationships between faculty, staff, and students which enhance student retention and success. Black feminist scholars refer to this sense of nurturing and cross-familial patterns of care as “othermothering.” While HBCUs may offer a more inclusive campus than their PWI counterparts, some scholars suggest that sexism continues to be pervasive, and embedded within institutional practices at HBCUs. In her article entitled “Addressing Gender Issues in the Historically Black College and University Community: A Challenge and Call to Action”, Florence Bonner from Howard University explains that “In terms of barriers to promotion, exclusion from the curricula, a chilly climate in the workplace and classroom, and sexual harassment, African American women face the same obstacles at HBCUs as they do at PWIs.” Such findings would indicate that while Black undergraduate RAs at HBCUs might experience less racially charged microaggressions and conflict than their PWI counterparts, they might experience a heightened degree of gender-based discrimination from men, who also identify as Black.

In order for postsecondary administrators and educators (at PWIs and HBCUs alike) to retain, support, and improve the unique experiences of these women, understanding the gendered and racialized realities of their experiences are crucial.

Ayana Tyler Hardaway is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Policy, Organizational, & Leadership Studies in the College of Education at Temple University. Under the advisement of Dr. James Earl Davis, she is conducting a critical, qualitative study on the experiences of Black undergraduate women RAs within a PWI. Ayana’s primary research interests include exploring the intersections of race and gender within Black women, and marginalized groups in college settings, cultural identity, and contemporary social movements on college campuses. Ayana has previously served as a Research Assistant on a Community Based Research Project with primary and secondary schools in collaboration with the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Ayana also holds several professional memberships in organizations such as AERA, ASHE, and PA-NAME.

Getting Predominantly Black Institutions a Primetime Spot

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Anthony Fowlkes

For African American students looking to pursue postsecondary education, the term HBCU brings out many opinions. Recently, HBCUs have been featured in the media from TV shows like Black-ish, and United Shades of America to their own PBS special, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges & Universities. Just last year, these institutions made national news when HBCU presidents met with President Trump in the White House and when the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, gave her first commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University. If that was not impressive enough, Beyoncé turned her 2018 Coachella performances into a tribute to the Black excellence found at HBCUs. The conversation around HBCUs is alive and happening now.

It might come as a shock to some that Black education is not contained in just these 105 institutions. There are 30 other institutions currently designated as Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs). PBIs are approaching their 10-year anniversary since written into law when the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 – a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 – passed. However, Congress first recognized these institutions through the Predominantly Black Institution Act of 2007.

These institutions were designated as PBIs as a result of one of the final provisions of the then Senator, Barack Obama. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education Obama stated, “Congress has long supported the essential role of similar institutions through provisions supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, but newer institutions serving a needier, but deserving student populations can now also be recognized and supported.” The move to designate these institutions was intentional and critical to expanding funding opportunities to institutions that serve Black students.

Now you must be wondering if HBCUs are historical, how does one define a PBI? There are 4 criteria that the federal government uses to define a PBI, they are:

  1. Must serve at least 1,000 undergraduate students
  2. Have a high proportion of Pell-eligible undergraduate students in comparison with other institutions offering similar instruction
  3. Have a low per full-time undergraduate student expenditure in comparison with other institutions offering similar instruction
  4. Must enroll at least 40% African-American students

These criteria are not easy bars to clear. In comparison, when determining eligibility for the 2018 academic year, the U.S. Department of Education found that:

  • 29 of undergraduate serving HBCUs enrolled less than 1,000 undergraduate students
  • 4 HBCUs enrolled few Pell-eligible students compared to similar institutions
  • 16 HBCUs spent more on full-time undergrads than similar institutions
  • 5 HBCUs did not enroll at least 40% of African-American students

If we are holding PBIs to such a high standard, then we need to acknowledge the hard work they are doing. I believe this show of support can come in several forms.

Firstly, higher education scholars should begin researching PBIs. These institutions are currently one of the least studied of all of the Minority Serving Institutions, particularly due to their newness. However, after 10 years there are still no peer-reviewed studies conducted solely on PBIs. There is ample opportunity to not only examine the outcomes PBIs produce but also include these institutions alongside current assessments of HBCUs to give a fuller picture of Black postsecondary education. In addition, over 100 more institutions are on the cusp of becoming PBIs, as of 2017. We, as a higher education community, need to examine the specific needs of these schools in order to assist in overcoming barriers.

Secondly, PBIs are serving as a pipeline for Black students to enter postsecondary education. PBIs are mostly 2-year colleges offering associates degrees in the East, South, and Midwest. If HBCUs partnered with these institutions, then the pipeline could continue for these students. This approach provides more opportunities for students who were unsure of pursuing a 4-year education first, wanted to stay closer to home, or lacked knowledge around HBCUs. Partnerships would not only help students but could also help increase HBCU enrollment – especially due to the proximity of PBIs to HBCUs.

Finally, through media and consumer education, there needs to be a push to highlight these institutions to students and families. These institutions don’t have the legacies of HBCUs to carry them into the Oval Office or to the stage at Coachella. As a community of people interested in the success of Black students, spotlighting PBIs will garner more public support and illuminate the excellent work these institutions are doing to support and uplift Black and first-generation low-income students. Getting research into the hands of media commentators, calling representatives to stress the importance of these institutions, and getting those speaking to high school students to include PBIs as an option is just the first step towards PBIs primetime spot.

Anthony Fowlkes is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Higher Education as well as a master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He is originally from Troy, Michigan and attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, majoring in both Economics and Asian Studies. Anthony worked throughout his undergraduate career in the Office of the Vice President of Student Life conducting research on the institution’s student population. In his first year of graduate school, Anthony worked with University of Michigan’s Office of Enrollment. Anthony’s research interests include federal financial aid system and the effectiveness of institutional policies that assist in the accurate and timely disbursement of those funds. Anthony was also an intern at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. 

TCUs: Saving Native American Education

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Rachel Bryan

Native Americans have the lowest educational attainment of any race.

In 1990, only 9% of Native Americans under the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 21% of all US citizens.  Fortunately, with the preparation of a two-year tribal college or university (TCU), Native American students are four times more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree than those who entered a mainstream four-year institution out of high school and 86% of students that attend TCUs earn a degree. Why is this gap in educational attainment so vast?

One of the ways in which mainstream institutions are failing their Native American students is that they are simply not addressing the values of Native American students. For example, family is such an important value in Native American culture that it can “take priority over their personal academic progress.” Additionally, Native American families struggle with high rates of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence, which can affect students and even result in them dropping out of college.

It is also important to note that many Native Americans are first-generation students. Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the American Indian College Fund and former president of Northwest Indian College, has witnessed a lack of preparedness from Native American students because they aren’t having conversations about college with family members and friends: “We’ve encountered students who were coming to college and didn’t know they were going to be responsible for attending classes and asking for help if they needed help…School is starting in a few weeks and we have students just now who are looking for funding. That’s an aspect of college readiness. You have to get ready for college ahead of time.” Not only is a first-generation student coming into a mainstream university at a disadvantage, but they are also rarely given resources specific to their needs by the university upon arrival. Mainstream universities often lump together first-generation students and provide general resources.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, mainstream institutions are Eurocentric and often ignore “cultural traditions, norms, and perspectives of other racial and cultural groups.” Specifically, instruction at these universities is vastly different than the hands-on methods that are praised in the Native American community, which forces over one-third of Native American students into academic remediation. In addition to their Eurocentric curriculum, these institutions often don’t have faculty of Native American descent, which can further discourage Native American students to attend.

Enter TCUs.

First, TCUs recognize the need for culturally relevant material. By incorporating Native American values, tribal languages, and tribal history, their curriculum is culturally sensitive and provides Native American students with programs and courses that meet their needs. Not only is their course content relevant, but it also is taught in a way that empowers students. Many TCUs utilize the Family Education Model, the purpose of which is to increase Native American student retention by affirming linguistic, racial, and ethnic identities, by providing academic and familial counseling, by building a tight-knit community, and by preparing students for mainstream culture. Perhaps most importantly, this model emphasizes that the issues surrounding Native American student retention should not be blamed on the behaviors of Native American students, but on the tension between institutional, student, and familial values.

Second, TCUs recognize the disadvantages present for Native Americans and for those who are first-generation, so they are very encouraging of faculty and staff mentorship. These mentors are often called “follow-through” mentors because if their mentee is interested in transferring to a four-year institution, they aid in this process and maintain contact after the transfer process is complete. In addition to their mentorship role, follow-through mentors also act as tutors and advisors for Native American students and are present in many aspects of students’ lives.

Finally, if they are interested in transferring, TCUs help Native American students adjust to the academic environment of post-secondary education before having to adjust to the social environment of a mainstream institution. The environment of a TCU contrasts with that of a mainstream institution in many ways, including the institutional mission, the size of the institution, and the racial makeup of students, staff, and faculty. Through empowerment and preparation, TCUs serve to “raise a bunch of radicals with the skills to recognize and address social injustice,” as stated by Cheryl Crazy Bull, and these skills essential in preparing TCU graduates in their transition to a mainstream institution.

While mainstream universities by nature can’t provide all of the benefits that TCUs can provide to Native American students, they can learn from TCUs as a whole and attempt to increase Native American enrollment and retention. First, they can avoid generalizing their first-generation students. This postsecondary community represents a cornucopia of experiences and perspectives, and therefore, requires diverse resources. Second, they can establish bridge programs, collaborations, and partnerships with TCUs that will help Native American students transfer if they choose to do so. In sum, TCUs are “truly community colleges” and are doing wonders for the for the Native American community, both in educational attainment and community support.

Rachel Bryan is a second-year M.A. student at the University of Michigan studying Higher Education with a concentration in Diversity and Social Justice. She received her B.A. in Linguistics and a minor in Gender and Health from the University of Michigan as well. Currently, she is a Graduate Intern at the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, where she has run programming and social media campaigns for Native American Heritage Month and Arab Heritage Month, in addition to working with students and staff to run the 46th Annual Dance for Mother Earth Powwow. Rachel was a summer research assistant for the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI), she hopes to continue her research on TCUs, as well as work on the CMSI’s various programs.

M@P-ing the Road to Success: Preparing HBCU Students to Pursue Advanced Degrees

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Dottie Vollmer

For many students, the thought of earning a graduate degree can be intimidating. For some, it may be due to the lack of support while pursuing an undergraduate degree; for others, it may be due to the lack of knowledge about how to pursue, apply, and gain admission to a graduate program. However, pursuing a graduate degree can become more of reality when students are able to engage in proactive, pre-graduate school experiences over the course of their undergraduate careers.

The Mentoring@Purdue (M@P) program was established in 2012 with the goal to address professional development needs, enhance academic success, and increase career readiness of women and underrepresented minority (URM) graduate students pursuing Ag-STEM graduate degrees. In 2014, M@P enhanced its reach beyond the Purdue University campus by creating the M@P Summer Scholars Program (M@P-SSP). The M@P-SSP began with partnerships with six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) but has since expanded to include 11 HBCUs. The purpose of the M@P-SSP is to recruit upper-level, undergraduate or master’s degree students from collaborating 1890 land-grant institutions to ‘experience’ Purdue University and participate in activities that enhance academic success and graduate school readiness. These activities include the opportunity to visit graduate departments in the College of Agriculture, engage with faculty mentors and students, and explore research opportunities. The focus of M@P-SSP is to develop the social support of women and URM students which is critical to increasing the number of URMs pursuing Ag-STEM graduate degrees.

Students who plan to continue their education after obtaining an undergraduate degree may need additional preparation for graduate school coursework, research, or even insights into the graduate school application process. Preparing for graduate school is a thought undergraduate students often defer until their senior year. However, getting a strong start from day one will boost student chances of getting accepted into a graduate program and being successful while there. Past participants of the M@P-SSP indicated a strong desire to learn more about the graduate school application process. To answer the expressed need of helping undergraduate students to become better prepared for graduate school as well as the graduate school application process, the M@P-ing Out Your Future Pre-Graduate Resource Guide (PGRG) was developed. The PGRG was a by-product of a conversation between the M@P co-director and administrators from a partner HBCU.

The PGRG helps lead students through a linear progression of steps that help them clarify their educational and career goals related to completing a graduate degree. Specifically, students participate in learning experiences that help them prepare academically and professionally for success in graduate school as well as help them understand the steps related to navigating the application process. The PGRG helps students prepare for their graduate career earlier in their undergraduate years. While online, graduate school admissions resources exist at other institutions, the PGRG is a fillable tool students can utilize throughout their entire undergraduate career to “M@P” out their graduate school goals and plans. By beginning early, students will have a higher likelihood of being set up for success.

The M@P-ing Out Your Future Pre-Graduate Resource Guide is an 11-chapter resource tool outlining the steps of applying to graduate school as well as providing tips to students about the application process. This guide chronologically outlines the application process from finding letter of recommendation writers to taking the GRE, from approaching potential faculty to applying for an internship. More specifically, chapter one is a timeline to follow starting with early undergraduate years through the last semester of senior year. This chapter provides a one-stop checklist for students to reference throughout the planning process. Chapter two provides charts to track all undergraduate courses needed to graduate and be successful. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a stressful exercise that affects many students who are considering graduate school. Chapter three explains each section of the exam and provides insights, tips, and links to practice questions to elevate students’ self-efficacy and confidence to succeed. Another stressful choice that students need to make is the school and program for graduate education. Chapter four provides a comparison table for students to complete and visually compare characteristics to find the best fit. The PGRG guides students through what they will need and how to complete a graduate school application. Tips for writing a statement of purpose are outlined (Ch. 7) as well as information to find the best professors to ask for letters of recommendation (Ch. 8). Also included in the PGRG is information about approaching faculty members from universities students are applying (Ch. 10) as well as the best options for internships (Ch. 9). The basic graduate school application requirements are also included and outlined in this guide aimed to help students succeed.

While every student’s educational journey is different, this guide is meant to provide a starting point, as well as important check-in points to consider, when preparing for graduate school. Education should be seen as a journey, not a destination. Choices that students make during their undergraduate years have a major impact on their future career, so planning early and staying focused with the help of the PGRG will help to ensure that students get off to a successful start.

Dottie Vollmer is a graduate student in at Purdue University working with Dr. Levon T. Esters. She is the Campus Activities Coordinator for the Mentoring@Purdue Program in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. Dottie’s research interests include career development, positive youth development, and 4-H Youth Development Programs. You can access the online version of the M@P-ing Out Your Future Pre-Graduate Resource Guide here:

Dear Black People: Respect HBCUs

Black people should value HBCUs the way they value Harvard.  This statement posted by HBCU Pride Nation resonated with me as the underpinnings of my interest in Black colleges.

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Janelle L. Williams

Most people assume the logical conclusion, which is that my interest stems from being an HBCU alumna. However, that is only partially correct. My interest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) started in high school after I made the decision to attend Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. Excited to share my final decision with my homeroom class and teacher during college decision day, I was not prepared for the snickers and condescending looks of disapproval I would soon receive.

When I announced, with pride, that I would be attending Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest historically Black institution of higher education, an immediate uneasiness came over the classroom. My teacher started to applaud in an effort to motion the applause of my classmates, and they complied. After class, my Black peers, who as if needed to be sure they heard correctly, asked in an out-casting tone: “Are you really going to a Black college (Cheyney)? Why not somewhere better?” I thought to myself “better?” aloud I said, “Did you not hear me say that I am going to the nation’s oldest historically Black institution of higher education?” Like deer in headlights, my peers were bewildered and rebutted that it was 2003 and we (Black students) no longer needed to attend Black colleges because we have other options. I was very disappointed and shocked by their reaction, particularly because my peers unknowingly just regarded HBCUs as subordinate, a vestige of the past, and no longer necessary.

Unfortunately, I spent the remainder of that school year and now my academic career, justifying my decision, advocating and educating Black people on the importance of HBCUs. No, this is not another addendum to the PWI vs HBCU debate, but rather a plea for Black people to have respect for the institutions created with the explicit purpose of the advancement of Black people. Understanding that without these institutions, the current positioning of Black people in the United States would look much different.

Can you imagine the plight of the nation without HBCUs?  It is possible that education in the United States would still be segregated, and possibly still governed by Jim Crow laws.  Brown v. Board of Education, known as the breakthrough desegregation case that legally ended segregation, was tried by HBCU educated and trained lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (Lincoln University & Howard University Law School) and Robert L. Carter (Lincoln University & Howard University Law School) in 1954. In 1960, four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students, also known as the A&T Four or the Greensboro Four, started a movement that fought against the Jim Crow laws of the South, and impacted the passing of 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Those two events were monumental in giving Black Americans, and all Americans access to the liberties now received.

HBCUs are also are given credit for creating the Black middle class. In the documentary, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Professor and Historian Marybeth Gasman was quoted saying: “Black colleges were educating future doctors and future lawyers and future teachers, and nurses and judges and they were responsible for lifting African Americans out of poverty and they started to create the Black middle class as we know it”. The proceedings and debates of the 106thcongressional record also highlight this fact, in giving credit to HBCUs for producing:

  • 85 percent of Black Doctors
  • 80 percent of Black Federal Judges
  • 75 percent of Black Veterinarians
  • 75 percent of Black Military Officers
  • 70 percent of Black Ph.D.’s
  • 70 percent of Black Dentists
  • 50 percent of Black Teachers
  • 50 percent of Black Attorneys
  • 50 percent of Black Engineers
  • 46 percent of Black Executives
  • 44 percent of Black Journalists

Black colleges exist because Black people were once systematically excluded from attending existing predominately White colleges and universities. For over 180 years, HBCUs have survived and thrived through slavery, World Wars, Jim Crow laws, segregation, integration, and sanctioned legal disparities all while supporting and maintaining a commitment to the education of Black people. At a minimum, this should be reason enough for Black people to respect HBCUs in the same way, if not more than, the way they respect other intuitions of higher education.


Janelle L. Williams is the Assistant Director for Health Policy at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a Visiting Scholar at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. In addition, she currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Cheyney University Foundation.