Reasons to Be Cheerful: The 5 Best News Stories of 2007
If I was asked to choose a single phrase to describe the state of Black higher education in 2007, it would have to be, “the changing same.” Also title of Deborah McDowell’s landmark study of Black women’s literature and literary theory (The Changing Same: Black Women’s Literature, Criticism, and Theory), this phrase captures the peculiar contradiction between the perception and the reality of Black people’s involvement in higher education during the year 2007.
Perceptions of Black people’s relationship to college and university education are progressing much more slowly than Black people’s real life achievements in academe, largely because Black academic progress simply depends on supporting African Americans’ pursuit of their goals and dreams, while a shift in the perception of Black people’s role in academe depends on changing the minds of people not only within, but also outside of the African American community, including many who have no vested interest in thinking about Blackness in more progressive ways, and who might even have an investment in maintaining the old biases.
Certain events in 2007 have highlighted this divide between popular (and often racist) perceptions of what Black people can and do accomplish on college campuses and the reality of Black student and faculty achievements in U.S. Higher ed. People like Don Imus (who looked at a basketball team full of hard-working, talented young Black women and saw only “hoes”) and James Watson (who stunned progressive communities in the U.S. and abroad with his unabashed assertion that Black people’s intelligence is genetically impaired) espoused ways of looking Blackness that are mired in centuries-old stereotypes. On the other hand, on college and university campuses across the nation, Black students, faculty, and administrators spent the year achieving their goals and setting new ones, all undaunted by the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that swirled around them.
You don’t have to be a person of African descent to feel cheered by the news stories listed below. If you care about people, education, and the future of our communities, the positive changes that these stories point to will fill you with pride in our Black youth, as wells as pride in our capacity as a nation to rise above the worst of our racist history and to move towards a future full of progress and promise for everyone:
Black women athletes graduate at impressive rates. The November 15th JBHE Weekly Bulletin reported that among Black men and Black women enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities, the graduation rate for athletes is significantly higher than the graduation rate for Black students who are not athletes. Most surprising is the finding that the national graduation rate for Black women student-athletes (64%) is higher than the national graduation rate for all white male students, athletes and non-athletes, alike.
African Americans make “spectacular progress” in the acquisition of master’s degrees. The November 8, 2007 JBHE Weekly Bulletin reported that in the 20 years between 1985 and 2005, the number of African Americans earning master’s degrees from U.S. university nearly quadrupled, from 13,939 to more than 54,000. The most dramatic gains were made among African American women who, in the 2004-05 academic year accounted for 71 percent of the master’s degrees awarded to Black people in the U.S.
Washington-led film project puts the spotlight on Black intellect. On Christmas Day African Americans received a wonderful gift in the form of “The Great Debaters,” the Golden Globe-nominated true story of how a debate team from Wiley College, a small HBCU located in Marshall, Texas, rose from nothing to eventually challenge the dominance of Harvard’s legendary squad. Washington compounded this gift of visibility for a little-known aspect of African American history with a special gift to the College itself, a $1 million donation to help re-establish Wiley’s legendary debate program.
HBCUs lead the nation in faculty diversity. With Black professors making up just under 60% of the faculty, white professors making up another 21 percent, and other ethnic groups making up roughly 17%, historically Black colleges and universities feature the most diverse faculty composition of any grouping of schools in the U.S. As a point of comparison, consider that nationwide over 80% of all college and university faculty are white.
- The rising generation of scholars. Although this story was published in 2008 (this morning, as a matter of fact), I am listing it as one of 2007′s “reasons to be cheerful,” mostly because the young men and women included in the profile of the Diverse Issues in Higher Education “Emerging Scholars” for 2008 are being recognized largely for their achievements during the previous year. Of the eight scholars of color listed here, five of them are African American, all are under 40, and all are intellectual standouts, not simply among their respective ethnic groups, but among all scholars in their fields.
Posted by Ajuan Mance
Posted in African American Professors, African American Students, Black Colleges, Black Faculty, Black Students, Denzel Washington, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Good Black News, Higher Education, Imus, IQ, James Watson, race, Ten Best List, Wiley College