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«Chapter One African American AL College Men RI Twenty-First-Century Issues and Concerns TE Michael J. Cuyjet, University of Louisville MA Several ...»

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Chapter One

African American


College Men


Twenty-First-Century Issues

and Concerns


Michael J. Cuyjet, University of Louisville


Several years ago, I had what I describe as “epiphany” experiences


while attending two events at the end of another academic school


year: the junior year awards ceremony at my daughter’s high

school and the commencement ceremony at the university at

which I work. Although somewhat different in focus and scope, GH these two events had a few similarities. One very apparent aspect they shared was the almost complete absence of African American men among the honorees.

RI The first half hour of the high school program consisted of about two dozen special awards for academic achievement. Only PY one African American male was among those honored. During the latter portion of the program, when each student was called to be CO recognized, very few of the African American males were cited for any “academic” honors or achievements. At my university’s commencement event, the first students recognized were the doctoral degree recipients, who were individually hooded by their mentors.

No African American men were among the fifty or so new doctorates conferred that day.

Although this is a wholly anecdotal and very unscientific assessment method, these two events nonetheless provided me with an epiphany by giving witness to an important issue in higher education 07_964603 ch01.qxp 1/26/06 2:44 PM Page 4


today: the relative absence of African American men matriculating in college as well as the relatively small pool of academically wellprepared high school students preparing to enter our colleges and universities. The image of these high school and college populations, almost devoid of Black men, with which I was left on each of these days is one borne out by more reliable statistical and demographic measurements, some of which will be reported in this and other chapters in this book. What is less apparent is the impact that the lower percentage of college education among African American men, compared to other groups in our American population, has on a significant number of elements in our society and our communities across the nation.

The issues related to the condition of African American men in American society are far-reaching and complex. Many individuals have addressed various aspects of this broad topic, from the general social conditions that affect African American males to specific instances that have special impact. Particular concerns related to African American men in elementary education, high school education, employment, the criminal justice system, interracial social interactions, and intraracial social interactions have all been examined in both academic literature and the mainstream press.

Yet the condition of African American men in higher education seems to have received less attention than some of these other topics, possibly because of the proportionally lower number that are, in fact, part of the condition itself. Among those works that have addressed the concerns of African American men in the college environments, much attention seems to be directed toward faculty and staff rather than undergraduate students. This book focuses attention on a number of issues that affect African American male undergraduate students’ matriculation. In doing so, it also identies some of the efforts being made on campuses across the country to impact these men’s lives positively and explores how those programs achieve their success.

This chapter attempts to accomplish several things. First, after a brief examination of some of the statistical information that helps present a picture of the current status of African Americans in American society—particularly at U.S. colleges and universities— it takes a closer look at the dramatic disproportion of African American men and women in college and describes some of the consequences of that imbalance. It also introduces some material 07_964603 ch01.qxp 1/26/06 2:44 PM Page 5

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These numbers present a rough benchmark against which comparisons can be made later in this chapter and throughout other portions of this book to see whether the presence of African American men and women in colleges and in other aspects of life in the United States (such as in prisons) are similar to their representation in the general population.

Interestingly, of the 6,826,228 people who identified themselves with two races or more, 6,368,075 named only two races.

Thus the single race group and those that used two races account for 99.84 percent of the total population. Of those identifying with two races, 39.69 percent chose White and one other choice, 11.94 percent chose Black or African American and one other choice,

11.14 percent chose American Indian and Alaska Native and one other choice, 11.11 percent chose Asian and one other choice, 2.54 percent chose Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander and one other choice, and 23.57 percent chose Some Other Race and one other choice. When added to the much larger number of persons who identified themselves with only one race, these numbers change the general proportions only slightly. Thus, for discussion, we will use the single-identity numbers and percentages. However, it is curious that Whites, who represent more than three quarters of the total population, comprise only two-fifths of those who identify using two races. One wonders if this group is more certain of its heritage than other groups, ignorant about possible multiracial heritage, or in denial about possible non-White ancestors.

The census numbers of greater significance to the topic of this chapter are not so much the ratios of the various racial or ethnic groups to each other, but the proportions of males and females in each group. Of the 34,658,190 citizens who identified as Black or African American, 47.5 percent were male (16,465,185) and 52.5 percent were female (18,193,005). This presents a male-to-female ratio of 90.5. In comparison, the male-to-female ratio for the U.S.

population as a whole was 96.3 (49.01 male/50.99 female); the ratio for Whites, 96.4 (49.1 male/50.9 female); for American Indians or Alaska Natives, 99.4 (49.8 male/50.2 female); for Asians, 93.5 (48.3 male/51.7 female); for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, 103.3 (50.8 male/49.2 female); and for Hispanics or Latinos, 105.9 (51.4 male/48.6 female). These figures, showing African Americans with the lowest male-to-female ratio among the 07_964603 ch01.qxp 1/26/06 2:44 PM Page 7

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Washington-based research center, which found a black inmate population explosion over the past two decades, an era of booming prison construction and get-tough-anti-crime legislation. In 1980 there were three times more black men enrolled in colleges and universities (463,700) than in prisons (143,000), the study said. By 2000, black male numbers grew to 791,600 in prison, but only to 603,032 on campus. Although the two groups are not directly comparable, since the college figures count a narrower student-age population, the numbers do dramatize a disturbing trend.

The Disproportion of African American Men and Women Although the number of African American college men in the Chronicle data previously cited is slightly higher than the number cited by Page in his 2002 article, the Chronicle number is still well below the number of African American men in prison. Which category—prisons or colleges—has the larger population at any particular time is less important than the fact that such a comparison gives stark evidence that the number of African American men in postsecondary educational institutions is so much lower than it should be if their representation were anywhere near what it ought to be if that number were proportional to the percentage of African American men in the U.S. population as a whole. Examples span our culture—from the dramatic disproportion of African American males in “behavior disorder” classrooms in almost every urban public school district to the extremely low percentage of African American men in corporate boardrooms. We can see it every day—that is, if we overcome our tendency to ignore it. For example, walking into the faculty club on the campus, I can choose simply to read the menu and pay no attention to the servers’ ethnicity, or I can observe the very apparent fact that the clientele is predominantly white and the wait staff is predominantly African American, then decide how best to voice concern why more of these Black men are not in my classes instead of bringing me iced tea.

This is an extremely important concern for American society for several reasons. First, the disproportion of any one segment of our population in any particular demographic component has 07_964603 ch01.qxp 1/26/06 2:44 PM Page 9


far-reaching effects on U.S. society as a whole. Consider for a moment how the disproportion of African American and Latino families concentrated in the lowest economic quadrant of American society casts racial and ethnic overtones onto almost all economic, political, and social policies of federal, state, and municipal government. (This phenomenon was starkly evident among the most severely affected victims of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005.) Logic dictates that if opportunities and resources were available equally and freely to all U.S. residents, the proportional distribution of representatives of various ethnic cultures would be spread across economic levels, throughout occupations, across educational levels, in corporate power structures, and in local, state, and national political arenas. To the contrary, as an example of the existing disproportion, U.S. census data reveal that in 1999, 39.7 percent of African American households and 38.6 percent of Latino households had incomes below $25,000, compared to only 17.8 percent of white households at that level (Wilson, 2000b). Whether or not this issue of the demographic representation of African American men and the places they occupy—or do not occupy—in various components of U.S. society is evidence of institutional racism is a larger and more complex topic than this volume will address. However, the impact of race and economics is one significant reason why some higher education researchers argue for paying close attention to the status of African American men in our colleges and universities—and why they are striving to improve their numbers of attendance and successful matriculation (Arnold, 2001; Brownstein, 2000; Wilson, 2000a).

–  –  –

Relations Between Men and Women One result of the low proportion of African American men on the typical four-year college or university campus (this imbalance occurs at HBCUs as well as at PWIs) is the impact on the social climate of the institution, which has several aspects. First, the most apparent result of the proportionally low numbers of African American men on campus is the rather dramatic imbalance of the relative populations of African American men and African American women on the typical campus. As indicated earlier in this chapter, the proportion of men to women among African American undergraduates is more skewed than among any of the other governmental ethnic categories (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005). Dillard University, for example, reported in 2004 a femaleto-male gender ratio of 74 percent to 26 percent (Foston, 2004).

Despite an increase in interracial dating over the past few years (Hughes, 2003), the fact remains that many African American women seek African American men as potential partners (Porter & Bronzaft, 1995). The relatively low number of these men on the typical campus makes the social dating process on many campuses out of balance. In some cases African American women refuse to date non-African American men and either simply do not date or, if they are fortunate enough to be on a campus in reasonable proximity to a local black community, they seek potential partners off campus. This alternative often proves unsatisfactory as well, since the proportion of men to women in many non-college African American communities is already skewed toward a higher number of women than men, causing competition with the other women in the community. Also, in many cases the available men have less education and a lower socioeconomic status than the college-going females. This may not be a concern of all the women, but it is an issue for many of them (King, 1999).

Although there is little supporting empirical evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that the increasing incidence of interracial dating among African American women at PWIs is exacerbated by the relatively low numbers of African American men among the student body. Some African American college women may indeed select their dating partners with little or no consideration for the person’s race (if that is truly possible to do in the U.S.), but others would doubtless admit that they would prefer dating African American 07_964603 ch01.qxp 1/26/06 2:44 PM Page 11

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can only truly be dispelled by experiencing the positive traits of African American men through face-to-face interactions. In the absence of this experience, we form our perceptions and opinions about members of other social groups from the limited information we obtain from other sources (Sigelman & Tuch, 1997). If these sources—the news media, fictionalized entertainment in books or television or films, or stereotypical images passed from person to person—contain false information, then that is what we accept until provided contradictory, corrective data.

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