Black men and college life

graduates at 2010 Commencement

There are currently hundreds of thousands of black men taking classes at colleges and universities across the country. These aspiring intellectuals come from big cities, small towns, urban areas and those more rural, and from nearly every socio-economic status imaginable. Each brings his own unique story.

Tremendous diversity exists among black male college students, but Shaun R. Harper, an assistant professor in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, says there is often an erroneous and stereotypical presumption that African-American men come from similar backgrounds, and experience college life exactly the same way. “And that’s obviously not true,” he says.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Harper will illustrate the multiplicity of African-American men in college by moderating a panel discussion called “How Black Men Experience & Succeed in College” at the Penn Bookstore. The event takes place from 4 to 6 p.m.

The panel will feature a “diverse” group of five black male undergraduate students—two from Penn and the remaining three from Temple, Drexel and the Community College of Philadelphia—who will respond to a series of questions about how African-American men experience higher education.
“I use the word ‘diverse’ on purpose because these guys will represent various aspects of the college experience,” Harper says.

Empirical evidence suggests that black men experience college much differently than their white counterparts, particularly at predominately white institutions, Harper reports. For example, African-American men must contend with racist stereotypes and assumptions, he says, and it is difficult for them to find male role models of color.

In addition, he says, African-American men from lower income backgrounds have a dissimilar college experience than upper middle class and affluent blacks. Black student-athletes also have a separate experience from non-athletes, as do heterosexual African-American men from gay and bisexual peers.

The author of a host of books, including “Students of Color and STEM: Engineering a New Research Agenda,” and articles on black men in college, Harper intends to have the panelists address different aspects of college life, following themes that he has addressed in five of his books.
Harper hopes attendees leave the panel discussion with a better sense of the great range of experiences among African-American men in college, “and a better appreciation for the diversity that exists within the population.”

Originally published on February 3, 2011