Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Black Excellence: Fostering Intellectual Curiosity in Minority Honors Students at a Predominantly White Research Institution

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Black Excellence: Fostering Intellectual Curiosity in Minority Honors Students at a Predominantly White Research Institution

Article excerpt


As a recent alumnus of the West Virginia University Honors College, I recognize my honors experience as a multi-faceted, intellectual journey that pushed me academically, professionally, and personally to become the lifelong learner that I am today As the only Black honors student in my graduating class, I was aware of my tokenism, especially in my honors courses, in the honors college office, in the honors learning center (testWELL Learning Center), and in university and honors college committee meetings, but I never let it bother me much My peers misperceived me as an "Oreo"; my physical appearance was Black, yet my mannerisms and opinions were "White" to them. Again, that did not bother me because I felt at home among my honors college peers--until my senior year, when I took my first study abroad trip. After that trip, I experienced my first engagement with the Black community at the university and spent a semester unpacking my distorted understanding of African Americans in American history primarily through the mentorship of a remarkable Black woman. By the end of the semester, I understood the importance of correcting my White friends' sense of privilege, representing and advocating for my community in this elite academic space of honors, and paving the way for other Black students to succeed in higher education My self-awakening came at a pivotal time in my life, and it sealed my interdisciplinary interest in law and education.

As I have learned so far in law school, an individual who wants to change the status quo needs first to understand all the nuances and intricacies of an issue, so I address this essay to honors administrators--and other readers--who need to understand how to effectively foster Black students' curiosity in honors. First, through the eyes of Black millennials, I define intellectual curiosity as Black Excellence and show the struggle and resilience of those who strive to be excellent. Next, I contextualize this struggle by analyzing national population statistics, enrollment data at four-year public research institutions, and student anecdotes about their educational experience. I continue by creating a foundational outline of the areas that honors colleges and honors programs can use to foster Black Excellence at their institutions, and finally I provide suggestions for honors colleges and programs to build upon the foundational outline and effectively foster Black Excellence.

Arguably, fostering intellectual curiosity should be something honors colleges and honors programs are doing for all their students by ensuring educational equality and by removing institutional barriers affecting their students Honors colleges and honors programs cannot retroactively undo historical restrictions on Black people's access to education and on their right to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners, but they can be proactive in increasing such access and their right to be intellectually curious With this understanding, I believe honors administrators can expand their perspectives on what they should do to foster Black Excellence at their institution so that students like me will better succeed in honors.


My definition of "Black Excellence" is achieving success and fulfillment through a drive to question the status quo, to thirst for knowledge, and to be the best representation of one's self while understanding the larger societal implications beyond individual success. For many Black millennials, excellence signifies achievement in scholarship, service, and leadership as acknowledged by peers, parents, and other members of the Black community who are making a difference. For some, graduation is a mark of excellence for young Black men and women who have served as executive officers in student organizations, represented the student body on university committees, and attained the highest honors, fellowships, and scholarships at their institution and across the country (Dixon; WVU Students) Other Black millennials, however, believe that the term embodies a historical, societal burden that is demoralizing rather than liberating given its unreasonable expectations:

Yes, my Blackness is amazing, great, beautiful and wonderful. … 
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