Framing the Effect of Multiculturalism on Diversity Outcomes among Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

By Dwyer, Brighid | Educational Foundations, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Framing the Effect of Multiculturalism on Diversity Outcomes among Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Dwyer, Brighid, Educational Foundations


Historically Black colleges and universities [HBCUs] have been a tremendous asset for African Americans seeking higher education over the past 150 years (Anderson, 1988). Before 1950, traditionally Black institutions educated more than 75 percent of African-American college students (Anderson, 1984). Although the percentage of African Americans educated at HBCUs has decreased to 20% since that time (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), retention rates among Black students at HBCUs are significantly higher than at traditionally White institutions (TWIs) (Redd, 1998). In addition, HBCUs reported better outcomes in student learning and self-confidence (Allen, 1992; 1996; Fleming, 1984). For example, compared to Black students at TWIs, Black students at HBCUs are more likely to report higher grade point-averages, better psychological development, greater satisfaction with campus activities and cultural support, and academic growth and maturity (Allen, 1987, 1992, 1996; Fleming, 1984). Moreover, students have better relationships with faculty and staff and are more likely to aspire to an advanced degree (Allen, 1996; Harvey & Williams, 1996). Furthermore, because of racially hostile campus climates at TWIs (Hurtado, 1996), HBCUs provide students with an alternative to predominantly White campuses wherein African American students may spend much of their time feeling alienated, frustrated, and unsupported (Oliver, Rodriguez, & Mickelson, 1985; Smith, 1989; Watson & Kuh; 1996).

However, greater numbers of African-American students are choosing to attend TWIs over HBCUs (Allen & Jewell, 2002; Harvey & Williams, 1996; Redd, 1998). Harvey and Williams (1996) suggest that this shift has occurred because African-American students now have a large array of institutions to choose from. As a result of the school desegregation acts of the 1950s (i.e., Brown v. Board, etc.) and the desegregation of higher education in the 1970s through the 1990s, (1) HBCUs must now contend not only with being one of several institutions, historically Black or otherwise, from which African-American students choose to attend, but must also consider admitting greater numbers of non-Black students into their institutions (Allen & Jewell, 2002; Blake, 1991; Brown, 2002). As a result of the greater numbers of White, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American students attending HBCUs (Brown, 2002), the already existing international student population, and the diverse faculty that teach at these institutions (Anderson, 1988), HBCUs are becoming more racially diverse institutions.

The diversification of HBCUs has emerged as a result of factors specific to these institutions, yet despite the contributing factors, their bent towards diversity aligns with the recent push in higher education towards greater diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. Although diversity outcomes and multicultural curricula have been a part of an important discourse within mainstream higher education, these conversations have in large part neglected discussing multiculturalism and diversity outcomes at HBCUs. This investigation addresses this gap by examining the multiculturalism literature, as well as the literature specific to HBCUs, in an attempt to answer the question: What is the effect of multiculturalism on diversity outcomes of HBCU students?

Defining Diversity Outcomes

Before progressing with the discussion, it is important to define the way in which the term diversity outcomes will be employed. In a 2002 research investigation conducted by Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, and Gurin, the concept "diversity experiences" was used to describe both the classroom and informal interaction with college students from diverse experiences. This term describes most closely the phenomenon that is investigated in this study. However, I use diversity outcomes as a way of capturing the experiences students have as they interact with diverse others within their college environment; as well as the ways in which these experiences shape the interactions students will have with the world once they graduate from college. …

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