Debunking the Myth: Stories of African-American University Students

Debunking the Myth: Stories of African-American University Students

Debunking the Myth: Stories of African-American University Students

Debunking the Myth: Stories of African-American University Students

Excerpt

Shirley was elated when she saw the "A" at the top of her composition, the first assignment from her English professor, Dr. Smith. But written beneath it was the message, "See me after class."

"I got an A; what could she want?" Shirley thought.

When they were alone in her office, Dr. Smith told Shirley emphatically: "This is the best essay a black student has ever turned in to me. Tell me about yourself. Where did you learn to write so well?"

Shirley hesitated. "Should I take Dr. Smith's comments as a compliment, an insult, or both?" she wondered. "Regardless, I resent white professors comparing me to other black students." Remembering her mother's advice to "think before speaking — especially with white folks," Shirley told Dr. Smith she had taken several English composition courses in high school.

Different perceptions and expectations between white professors and black students can complicate their classroom interactions and influence interactions among students. Shirley's encounter with Dr. Smith is one example of how that tension affects African-American students.

A recent study of black undergraduates at a predominantly white, Midwestern university, to which I have given the pseudonym, Whitman University, shows that African-American students are a heterogeneous population. The diverse individuals and subgroups that are prevalent among that population contradict a common myth that African‐ American college students are monolithic.

Myths are fictions that transform society. The myth of African‐ American homogeneity is all too common. On the basis of this myth, what is true for one African-American student becomes true for all. Thus a professor may, unthinkingly, turn to a black student and ask, "What is the view of the African-American community on this matter?" On most matters, views will diverge as much in the African-American . . .

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