Academic journal article Educational Foundations

The Gift That Keeps Giving: Historically Black College and University-Educated Scholars and Their Mentoring at Predominately White Institutions

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

The Gift That Keeps Giving: Historically Black College and University-Educated Scholars and Their Mentoring at Predominately White Institutions

Article excerpt

Introduction

Recent studies suggest that the learning environments at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are more conducive to the academic success and satisfaction of African-American students attending these institutions, compared to their peers at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) (Allen, 1992; Allen & Haniff, 1991; Cokley, 2003; Gallien, 2005). We can also look to incremental increases in the participation of African Americans in higher education over the years (Allen, 1992; U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). In real numbers, enrollments at HBCUs have increased since 1976--from less than 230,000 to 290,000 (Provasnik & Shafer, 2004). While these findings speak volumes about the value of an HBCU education, a closer analysis of the data reveals other trends. Despite a 40% increase in African-American college enrollment, HBCU attendance has lagged behind this rate (LeBlanc, 2001). Furthermore, in 2001, the Department of Education reported that HBCUs enrolled 13% of African-American students' a five percentage-point decrease from the percentage reported in 1976 (Hoffman, Snyder, & Sonnenberg, 1996; Provasnik & Shafer, 2004). With over 85% of African-American students attending PWIs, the vast majority of African-American students will not have the historically Black collegiate experience. One must wonder, then: has the impact and relevance of HBCUs diminished over the past thirty years?

In this paper, I will pursue the answer to this query by examining two research questions: First, how do four African-American professors who self-identify as mentors at a highly-selective PWI describe and understand their formative experiences as they relate to their mentoring relationships with African-American undergraduate students? Second, how do four African-American professors who self-identify as mentors teaching at a highly selective PWI explain why they are committed to mentoring African-American undergraduate students? Through my findings and analysis, I will argue that the influence of HBCUs continues into the emerging new century in a novel way: these venerable institutions may contribute to the landscape of American higher education by producing scholars who have a commitment to supporting the scholarship and development of African-American students. Unlike a generation ago, some of these scholars can be found beyond the HBCU campus at PWIs, where they can aid and assist African-American undergraduate students as they navigate a campus environment fraught with challenges (Allen, 1992; Feagin, Vera, & Imani, 1996).

Personal Experiences and Context

I am part of a generation of students I will label as the "grandchildren" of HBCUs: while I did not attend an HBCU, key mentors in my life did. I was educated in integrated primary and secondary schools, and attended a PWI. As a first generation college student, I knew little about Black colleges, and even maintained stereotypes and misconceptions about the institutions. As an undergraduate student, student affairs administrator, and graduate student, I have had the benefit of establishing many mentoring relationships over the years with faculty and administrators from many different experiences and social locations. However, at my undergraduate institution, a caring administrator who was a graduate of an HBCU served as my primary mentor. Her intentional interventions in my development as a student leader strongly influenced me to pursue a career in education. She also served as a keeper of institutional memory and a campus mother to many students, especially students of color and African-American students. When reminiscing on my collegiate years with my fellow alumni, we often speak of her as essential to our success as students and our development as men and women.

Similarly, as a graduate student, I have experienced exceptional mentoring from a faculty member at my institution; my mentor has been generous with his time and with opportunities to further my progress as a scholar. …

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