Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Biracial Black and White Students - Considerations for College
As parents and rising Seniors explore the next phase of their lives past high school, many students are considering colleges and universities as the next step of their academic and career journey. There are SO MANY factors to consider when applying to colleges and universities - degree programs, student support services, professors, advanced degree opportunities, extracurriculars, organizational reputation, housing options, tuition and fees - the list goes on.
For our multiracial kids, student body demographics and the organization’s orientation to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIJ) can be transformational in their racial identity journey. Today’s paper sought to understand Biracial Black and White students' experiences at Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs) compared to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The author interviewed 49 individuals in their first or second year of college to understand how their racial identities evolved over time and found some important trends between attending HWCUs and HBCUs.
Biracial Black and White students who attended HBCUs shared feelings of belonging and inclusion within their HBCU setting. They felt stronger connections to the Black element of their identity over time and shared that they felt accepted and included within the HBCU setting. Biracial Black and White students attending HBCUs shared appreciation that all classes had intentional and ongoing discussions of Black empowerment and understanding the implications of race within the US context that privileges whiteness.
Biracial Black and White students attending HWCUs had much different experiences. Rather than coursework and intentional discourse around race, Biracial Black and White students at HWCUs often reflected on the implications of race as they experienced discrimination on campus, often feeling tokenized or stereotyped by professors and/or classmates. Many students shared explicit experiences with racism on campus that directly impacted their safety and belonging. Biracial Black and White students attending HWCUs often discussed feelings of exclusion - feeling that they could not fully participate in campus life as they were ‘othered’ as non-White. These students also did not have much contact with Black peers due to underrepresentation on campus, unless it was intentionally sought out.
The Biracial Black and White students in this study experienced one commonality in both HWCUs and HBCUs - a stronger connection with the Black element of their identity. However, students at HBCUs felt this connection due to inclusion and intentional learning, while students at HWCUs felt this connection due to exclusion and othering.
So what does this mean for our families?
This study examined the experience of 49 Biracial Black and White students, so it should not be interpreted that multiracial students will always have a bad experience if they attend Historically White Colleges and Universities, but it does set us up for learning more about what supports exist for our kids within these systems.
A few questions your family may want to consider when learning about potential HWCUs of interest:
Does the institution require students to take courses that critically reflect on race?
Are there any student groups/clubs that are dedicated to multiracial students?
How has the institution reacted to incidents rooted in racism?
Does the institution have an Office of Multicultural Services? What services do they provide?
Of course not all of our multiracial kids are Black. This study doesn’t offer insight into the experience of Biracial non-Black students at HBCUs. However, if your child is exploring attending an HBCU, the above questions would likely be applicable.
In addition to the questions your family may have about HWCUs and HBCUs, it is also important to consider campus visits and experiences while on campus. Finding a college or university that is a good ‘fit’ is not just about the criteria that can be learned on paper, but also how your child feels on campus. Our Samahra team has heard numerous stories of campus visits that were hurried and overscheduled, leaving students with poor experiences and feelings regarding their time on campus. If you have the fortune of visiting college campuses, it is important to be mindful of this element as your child decides the next phase of their life.
Citation: Clayton, Kristen A. "Biracial identity development at historically white and historically Black colleges and universities." Sociology of Education 93.3 (2020): 238-255.
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