Why College is so Difficult for Many Black Students

This is not an academic article on the struggles of college for the Black student. I am not attempting to explain why there are not many Black males enrolled in college as there are females.  What I am doing here is explaining something that I have always recognized, but until this weekend, became clear. I moved from multicultural San Diego to two culture Memphis to teach at a HBCU. I eventually left that HBCU when I was up for tenure, which is another story altogether. I bring this up to state that I have been in both forms of colleges, large predominantly White schools and a Black school. Like I said though, one thing stood out that I hadn’t really analyzed until now. Black students, slight generalization coming, seem to be the only students who can face the awkward situation of being uncomfortable when returning home between semesters.

I had the great fortune of moving into a nice neighborhood in Memphis. What is really interesting is that my neighbors lived in California and are an Asian family which is somewhat rare in Memphis. I don’t feel like researching to see if this is actually rare, just go with it. What I realized about this family, like with the Mexican/Latino families in San Diego is that the various cultures that are not Black have multi-generational households. This is to say that more than one generation lives in the household. Okay so what does this have to do with Black college students?  I see when the children of these families go to college after graduation, they are honored and revered, almost praised. When the student returns home, there is a party and you can often see the families standing outside talking and listening to how the semester went. There are some “college boy/girl” jokes but primarily this is reverance and happiness. The college student comes home and relaxes, feels welcomed and goes back to school recharged.
This is another interesting analysis, these cultures allow their college students to establish themselves and get comfortable which enables the student post graduation to move out and get a new place to live without the stress of being “18 and grown, so they should move out.” What is even more amazing is that the college student adds to the family wealth and the multi generation family pays for one home quickly before moving on and helping to pay for another home. Someone once asked me why I thought the different cultures are doing so much better, I said because they can live together and help each other. Blacks can’t do this.
What I often hear and see from Black students when they return to college is,
1. They are thankful to be back.
2. They are more tired than when they left, which creates problems during the semester.
3. They often never went home.
4. They seem irritable and unsettled, and unhappy.
What is it that contributes to this feeling? I wrote to one of my old students who is currently in college and explained to them that Blacks families often have problems with their children going to college.  I did not explain in greater detail why. I’ll try to be brief. Blacks have long had the mentality that education is a White concept. Instead of celebrating intelligence and academics we praise the athlete and entertainer. Blacks also suffer from a problem that happens in other cultures, but is treated differently. African-Americans have children at a younger age. In doing so we lose our childhoods and have to give our lives over to our children. While this is looked at as a great situation and an exciting time for many, some people see the loss of their childhoods, young adulthoods, adulthoods and they envy the child. I have even witnessed parents tell their kids when you hit 18 it’s a rap. I’ve heard dads celebrate when their children that get child support hit 18. I’ve seen moms get crunk, C Walk for Jesus, and do splits because when the child hits 18 they are no longer “responsible” for their student.
Basically, it goes without saying that when a culture does not have a very strong foundation in regard to education and understanding the problems that exist for a college student, there are going to be problems. However animosity shouldn’t be one. What Black families need to know about college for the Black student is that often it is an entirely new experience. There aren’t multiple generations of aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters who have graduated and can explain the hardships. While most cultures realize the tough situation of being a college student, Blacks often think working full time and struggling is a much harder situation, they therefore think that the Black college student is off partying, getting naked, high and kicking it like Charlie Murphy at a Rick James party.
The actuality is this, and this is important and the primary point of this article, the Black student is lost. They are in a new place, they are underdogs, the least important people on the totem pole. The Black student is afraid, because they don’t often have a mentor to call on to ask questions. They are lonely because they have to get to know a new group of people who will look at them differently and for various reasons. They will get classified and grouped once again: Pro-Black, Fraternity, Sorority, Nerd, Business, Smart, Athlete, Gay, Lesbian, Slacker, Loner, Stoner, Geek, Sweet, Sleeping with the Professor, Sleeping with Everyone in the Dorms, Power Couple, Work-Study, Meal Plan, No Car, With Car, Financial Aid Recipient, Scholarship Holder, Affirmative Action/You Stole My Friends Spot and the list goes on and on. All of these things they will encounter within weeks of being on campus. They will be short on money, scholarship checks will not show up on time, work study jobs will fall through and they will sign up for a class with the professor from hell. At the same time they will have to try to hold on to their scholarship money, build a social life and find their place. While they are doing this, many will be experimenting sexually and socially leading to very uncomfortable moments that will cause them to feel even more alone. All the while they will be looking forward to getting home to just catch a break.  Unfortunately in the Black household they will come home to people who are jealous and who think that these students have been on break for 4 months.
As I told my student, there isn’t a lot that you can do to fix this. I am writing this because maybe, maybe, some parent will read this and think about how they welcome home their college student. College and those years from 18-23 are some of the toughest years encountered. I guess, this is not just for Black Students, but for all students. College is an incredible time of maturation and learning, but Blacks should change the way we approach child rearing; 18 is not the cutoff, in all honesty 18 may be the most important time in a parent’s life.