Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Thoughts on Race, The Gender Gap, Higher Education, and Obama

November 15th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

(Source: Hero UK University Guide)

In 2007, nearly three quarters of all the Black students enrolled in graduate school (73%) were women. This face raises some issues and questions that are as interesting as they are disturbing.

Some Black kids may very well believe that good grades and an interest in education constitutes “acting white,” but this wrong-headed notion has failed to dissuade African Americans from pursuing post-secondary education. Black people make up only 12-13% of the population, and are currently enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities at a rate that is roughly proportional.

Such is not the case when it comes to gender. African American men and boys are graduating from high school, entering college, graduating from college, and completing graduate degrees at a numbers that fall well below their proportion of the larger U.S. Black population. I cannot say whether or not Black boys taunt those who get good grades with the accusation that they are “acting like girls,” but I fear that somehow the message is being communicated to Black boys and young men that education (especially graduating from high school and entering and completing college) somehow constitutes acting like man.

Black boys and young men are receicing the message that education is for girls and women; and the Black male college experience, during which he may well be outnumbered by women on his campus at a ration of 2-1, reinforces that idea.

I can’t imagine any of the startistics that I have cited for 2007 changing very much during 2008. They question is, however, whether or not Barack Obama’s high visibility as President of the U.S. will have any impact on African American educational attainment. Obama is, in a sense, the “biggest baller” on the planet, with the closest any Black man has ever come to infinite power; and a key stepping stone on the way to achieving to all that he has become was his education.

Might Obama model a new vision of Black manhood, one in which masculinity and power would not be a cross purposes with intellectual engagement and a passion for learning?

I’ll be waiting and watching.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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8 Responses

  1. sHaE-sHaE

    It’s good to hear that more black males are realizing that education is the way to go and are getting rid of that ‘it’s not cool to be smart’ attitude.

  2. Mari-Djata

    Spelman College graduate the most Black people who go on to get PhDs in the natural science.

    http://www.ajc.com/services/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/11/16/spelman.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=13

  3. Mari-Djata

    *Spelman College the second most Black people who go on to get PhDs in the natural sciences.

  4. DNLee

    Raw Dawg made a similar comment. You would think the male:female ratio would encourage some young men to go to college. But the sad fact is, so many of ‘our’ children don’t truly comprehend the value of education.

    It’s a PR message that’s begging to be spread.

  5. Keith

    Hey Ajuan,

    I think a lot of folks have been wondering that same thing, whether Obama would change the game of perception among young black males. I think the key here will be whether they see his breakthrough as proof that the world really is changing and that they can rise as high as their ambitions and dreams will take them…or whether they see it as something accomplished by one of those “other” brothers, meaning they might perceive it as still unattainable for the masses. If they view Obama as the supreme exception instead of as the light out of the tunnel, then we’ve still got a problem.

  6. Allison Sellers

    Great website, very readable clean content. You may want to try adding more pictures, but either way nice site.

  7. Ajuan Mance

    I’ve heard/read a few Black folks comment that any nerdy African American boy (and I mean “nerdy” in a good way) who is taunted by his peers will now have a good comeback: “So you think I’m [fill in the insult]? Well, then I’m [insult] just like Obama!”

    Keith, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. If Obama becomes “the supreme exception,” then Black people will have truly internalized white Americans’ propensity for labeling any Black person who is successful in any area but sports, rap/r&b, or dancing as the exception; and, sadly, we will have truly lost an opportunity to engage in some intra-racial paradigm shifting.

  8. Angie Braden

    Something to think about… And something to motivate me to start strongly encouraging my students, who are young black men, to not only graduate from undergrad, but to also go to graduate school… Thanks for the info. I’m going to pass it on.

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