Challenging Stereotypes

By Ruffins, Paul | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 31, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Challenging Stereotypes

Ruffins, Paul, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Methods of increasing Black male success in college continue to baffle educators.

"Explaining the barriers preventing more Black men from succeeding in higher education raises the most controversial and politicized issues of race, gender and class," says Dr. Juan Battle, a psychology professor at CUNY. He is one of many studying the "Aspiration-Attainment Gap," where as many Black elementary school students as White aspire to go to college, but far fewer, particularly males, ever obtain a degree. "Black researchers don't agree on the causes, and we certainly don't agree on the solutions," he adds.

The clashing perspectives range from those of Dr. Halford H. Fairchild, a professor of psychology at Pitzer College, to the ideas of Kevin Todd Porter, author of the recent book, Angry Little Men: Hypermasculinity, Academic Disconnect and Mentoring African Males, to those who feel the biggest barrier is a perceptual problem.

According to Fairchild, Black males are the targets of a system of White supremacy and oppression stretching from special education classes to the prison industrial complex. "One has to have an historical sensibility - that the issues of today are the result of decades, centuries, of educational practices. Back in the day, the presumption of inferiority - and blatant racism - denied educational opportunities to persons of African descent and also Native Americans and Latinos," he says. "These past practices die hard."

According to Porter, for many young Black men, "Education is way down on a list of priorities that might include drugs, gangs, chasing girls or just trying to survive a disruptive home life. . . . Our boys know that education can offer a brighter future, but maintaining a street image trumps doing homework, studying for tests and behaving in the classroom."

In stark contrast is the opinion of Dr. Ivory Toldston, editor of The Journal of Negro Education. In the third of his extensive reports on Black men in higher education sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Challenge the Status Quo, Toldston and co-author Dr. Chance W Lewis argue that "Black males are not underrepresented in colleges and universities." After acknowledging that many people would find this statement unbelievable, they back up their case by stating that "Black men over 18 comprise 5.5 percent of the adult male population and 5.5 percent of all college students." They go on to say, "Every decade, the number and percentage of Black men who earn a college degree is increasing." For Black men over 25, the figure has risen from 11.1 percent in 1990, to 13.2 percent in 2000, and 15.8 percent in 2010.

Toldson and Lewis have judiciously selected their facts and figures to help counter the negative stereotypes that Black men are unable or unwilling to participate in higher education. For example, they say that Black men are not underrepresented in "higher education," but "on campus." Many Black men are attending for-profit colleges online, and many are graduating from twoyear programs rather than earning B.A.s.

In the independent film Hoodwinked, Toldson joined Dr. Boyce Watkins, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and others to confront the widelyaccepted myths (such as there are more Black men in prison than in college) that easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Is special education really a trap?

Are young Black men deliberately being over-referred into special education? The National Association of Black School Educators (NABSE) tested this hypothesis by comparing the rates that Black children who were classified as having "objective" medical disabilities as opposed to to "subjective" psychological or intellectual problems. In a year when Black children were 14.8 percent of the school population, they constituted 14.6 percent of students with orthopedic difficulties, and 14.8 percent of those with visual impairments. However, they made up 34.3 percent of those labeled mentally retarded and 26.

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