African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

10
Cultural Capital and the Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Educational Reproduction

James Earl Davis

The role of schools in the generation of cultural knowledge and cultural connectedness to family, community, and the African diaspora generally is currently a major point of discussion within scholarly, policy, and practice arenas. The sources and responsibility of this cultural knowledge, however, are not fully understood or appropriately attributed. In particular, the place of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in providing cultural understanding and connection has come under closer scrutiny, particularly after school desegregation policies were enacted. Desegregation in education gave African American students legal access to formerly all-White educational experiences and consequent effects have been most visibly seen in the shifts in enrollment patterns of Black students in higher education. During the 1960s, Black students entered colleges and universities that are predominantly White institutions (PWIs) with high expectations, but many were greeted with hostile and culturally foreign environments. Although there were quantitative changes in the number of Black students enrolled at these PWIs, qualitative changes of the institutional culture did not mirror student demographic changes. While the cultural integration of Black students into the mainstream of university life was assumed, to the dismay of many optimistic policymakers, university administrators, and students alike, the presence of African Americans on college campuses was marked by social isolation and cultural estrangement.

HBCUs, on the other hand, have historically assumed a greater responsibility for educating Black students and granting a disproportionate number of college degrees to African Americans in the country. Further, the primary responsibility for creating a Black middle class is often laid at the feet of these schools. By 1947, Black colleges had produced 90% of all HBCU graduates. However, this percentage has declined since that time to about 80% in 1967 and little over 50% in

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