Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Wordless Wednesday: Morehouse College Grads

April 7th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

morehouse-men

Morehouse men at a recent commencement.

(Source: NewsOne)

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Indictments Handed Down in Harvard Shooting

March 16th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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Chanequa Campbell (left) and Brittany Smith

(Source: News One)

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From the Associated Press:

BOSTON — A former Harvard University student was indicted Tuesday as an accessory after the fact in the 2009 fatal shooting of a 21-year-old Cambridge man inside a Harvard dormitory.

Brittany Smith, 22, of New York City, was the girlfriend of Jabrai Jordan Copney, one of three men charged in connection with the killing of 21-year-old Justin Cosby. Cosby lived a few blocks from the Ivy League campus but was not a Harvard student.

Prosecutors allege the three men — all from New York City and none of them Harvard students — shot Cosby in a Harvard dorm in a robbery attempt during a deal to buy marijuana from him.

Copney, 20, and Blayn Jiggetts, 19, are charged with first-degree murder and other counts, while Jason Aquino, 23, is charged with being an accessory after the fact of armed robbery and carrying a firearm without a license. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Smith is accused of giving the men her Harvard electronic key card to enter the building where the shooting occurred, hiding the gun under a friend’s dorm bed and lying to authorities. She was indicted on charges of accessory after the fact of murder, illegal possession of a firearm and willfully misleading a grand jury and police.

—  from “Ex-Harvard Student Indicted in Dorm Shooting Death,” by Denise Lavoie (AP), March 16, 2010

You may recall this disturbing crime, committed last spring in the basement of a Harvard dormitory. The tragic deaths sent a shockwave through the Harvard community, but news of the killing was quickly upstaged by a different story, that of Chanequa Campbell, a Harvard senior and friend of Brittany Smith who was banned from the campus and denied her diploma along with Smith, and despite her consistent denial of any involvement in Cosby’s murder.

Although Harvard has refused to make a public statement on the fact that Campbell was not among those indicted, her attorney, Jeffrey Karp, believes that Campbell should be reinstated as a senior and receive her diploma.

Jeffrey Karp […] said Campbell remains barred from campus and has not received her degree from Harvard.

Karp said Campbell is having “considerable difficulty” finding a job because of the notoriety of the case and because of Harvard’s decision not to give her a diploma.

“I assume the investigation is over, and it seems to me that the fair thing for Harvard to do is to give her a diploma and allow her to graduate,” Karp said.

I sincerely hope that these indictments mean that Campbell has been discovered to have no involvement in this crime. If she is indeed cleared of any responsibility for the crime last spring, then Harvard owes her an apology and a diploma.

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Flashback Friday: The First Black Students at UNC – Chapel Hill

March 12th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

wiliam-robert-mann-congratulating-first-black-undergraduates-admitted-to-the-university-of-north-carolina-september-1955

Leroy Frasier, Ralph Frasier, and John T. Brandon (right),  being congratulated by Professor William Robert Mann on becoming the first African Americans admitted to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, 1955.

(Source: ChapelHillMemories.com)

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Milestone Demographic Shift Poses New Challenge to U.S. Institutions

March 10th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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The Associated Press has reported that 2010 will likely mark the point at which the percentage of non-white babies born in the U.S. surpasses 50%. AP writer Hope Yen reports,

[D]emographers say this year could be the “tipping point” when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites.

The numbers are growing because immigration to the U.S. has boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. Minorities made up 48 percent of U.S. children born in 2008, the latest census estimates available, compared to 37 percent in 1990.

“Census projections suggest America may become a minority-majority country by the middle of the century. For America’s children, the future is now,” said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who researched many of the racial trends in a paper being released Wednesday.

“Minority Births on Track to Outnumber White Births, Associated Press, March 10, 2010

For U.S. colleges and universities, too, the future will be determined by decisions made in the present. Babies born in this year will begin enter U.S. colleges and universities in 2018. This means that the nation’s 2- and 4-year colleges have less than 18 years to learn how to effectively attract and educate non-white college students.

At present, most U.S. minority groups have significantly lower college graduation rates than do white students. This trend is reversed for African American students at the most selective of the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as well as at many of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities.

The time is now for those institutions that have very poor records of retaining and graduating even their most highly qualified African American students to look to HBCUs and selective majority-white schools and begin to adopt some of their strategies.

The issue of minority achievement on U.S. campuses is no longer a topic that the nation can afford to shroud in racially tinged discussion of I.Q., “reverse” discrimination, and the level playing field. In a nation in which, sooner than later, most college-aged young people will be non-white, the issue of how best to equip college to education educate all kinds of students is far too serious for political grandstanding and sound bite politics. It is an issue of national security, intellectual progress, and economic survival.

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Black Americans More Optimistic on Issues of Race, Racism

March 10th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

optimism

From The Boston Globe:

Thirty-nine percent of blacks – nearly twice as many as in 2007 – say that the “situation of black people in this country’’ is better than it was five years earlier. That view holds among blacks of all age groups and income levels. Similarly, 56 percent of blacks and nearly two-thirds of whites say the standard-of-living gap between whites and blacks has narrowed in the past decade.

— Krissah Thompson, “Blacks Becoming More Optimistic on Race Relations,” The Boston Globe, 01/13/2010

Are African Americans feeling more optimistic about the “situation of black people in this country” because things are better? Curiously enough, African Americans are actually faring worse as a group than we were five years ago, at least in economic terms. But this notion of the current “situation of black people” is not about the day-to-day realities of life for African Americans. Rather, the recently reported finding that nearly twice as many Black people as in 2007 feel that the “situation for black people” has improved is really, truly about nothing more (or less) than a shift in perception.

If anyone were to say that these survey results have nothing to do with the election of the nation’s first Black president, then they would have to have missed entirely the important symbolic meaning of Obama’s election and inauguration. I can still remember my thoughts and emotions on January 20, 2009,  as I watched Barack Obama walk out onto the platform to take the oath of office. I nodded my head in what I now realize was a combination of disbelief and joy, amazement and curiosity. I was watching the impossible take place. Since early childhood I had known that there would never in my lifetime be an African American president. There were certain truths about the world, and this was one of them: the Earth was round, the sky was blue, and there would never be a Black president.

Prior to Obama’s election, my whole understanding of what it was to be Black in America was predicated on the notion that while African Americans could wield great power in the private sector — as CEOs, directors, producers, college presidents, prize-winning and best-selling authors, highly-paid athletes and coaches, entertainers and entertainment executives; and while Black people could even attain a fair amount of power in those public sector positions that were based on merit — through promotion to the highest levels of the military leadership, through nomination and confirmation to federal and regional judgeships, and even through appointment to high-ranking presidential cabinet positions — there would never in my lifetime be an African American president. I firmly believed that the anti-Black racism in this country ran far so deeply that a Black person simply would not be able to draw enough white voters to be a viable candidate.

If you asked me how long it would be before a Black president would be elected, I would easily have said 100 years.

And then, on January 20, 2009, I and virtually all of my Black brothers and sisters in this country watched spellbound as an African American man was sworn in as out 44th president. It was — and this is not an exaggeration — a moment akin to watching aliens land land in front of the Statue of Liberty. The shock and awe of witnessing the previously unthinable take place precipitated a dramatic shift in my thinking about the function of race in the U.S.

The point of this meditation on the meaning of Obama in my life and in the life of other Black people is that — above and beyond his policies, which some Black people support and others oppose, and above and beyond his effectiveness as a leader, which will only reveal itself as time goes by — the simple fact that a Black person could actually win the presidency disproved many of the things that many of us Black folks believed about this country.

Take me as a case in point. Now, I am not so naive as to believe that racism has come to an end; nor do I believe that racism does not continue to have harmful and sometimes fatal effects on African Americans and other people of color. And, even as we celebrate the end of our first year as a nation governed by a man of African descent, we can see the impact of racism on how Obama’s ideas are received, on how he is covered in both the mainstream and alternative media, and on how the left — a traditional power base for the Democratic party —  has, at key moments, failed to support his initiatives. The election of Barack Obama did, however, underscore to me that African Americans can have very, very positive and even extraordinary outcomes, despite the continued existence of racism.

The survey findings reported in The Boston Globe and other news outlets, that more Black people feel better about the status of Black people than they did in 2004, reflect our new understanding, as a people, of how racism works in the 21st century. The fact that a nation can rally around, invest hope in, and entrust its welfare to a Black man does not mean that all of the individuals and institutions in this country — the media, the political opposition, political action groups on the left and the right — have identified and rejected the racism of their own policies and practices. It does mean, though, that racism is not insurmountable and, most importantly, it means that race is a lot more complicated than a simple hatred of Black people. A lot of people who don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with Black people voted for the Black presidential candidate. Somehow, some non-Black voters were able to extricate their personal feelings about African Americans from their political decision to support or not support an African American candidate.

The knowledge of this phenomenon — that in some instances, non-Black people can and do decouple their inherent dislike or distrust of Black people and/or their fear of Blackness from their decisions about their economic and political decisions — is transforming how African Americans feel about their place and their potential in this country. The knowledge that, for example, someone’s boss does not have to like Black people to give a Black employee the promotion that she has rightfully earned is a powerful one, especially given that most Black people believe 1) that white people and other non-Blacks simply don’t like African Americans and 2) that other groups’ dislike of African Americans places an insurmountable obstacle in the way of Black upward mobility.

I am especially interested in how this notion can (and has) impacted Black students on predominately white campuses. Many African American students have considerable trepidation about having to navigate through a system of higher education that they believe to be populated by and — most importantly — run by white people who dislike African Americans and/or believe them to be intellectually inferior. This trepidation turns to anger and fear when Black students encounter classroom situations in which their non-Black  professors make racist comments or fail to address the racist comments of their (mostly) white classmates. Aside from a fundamental anger and hurt at the tolerance for overt racism, such incidents also leave Black students feeling uniquely vulnerable. Many African American students have wondered have wondered how they can I earn a fair grade from someone who either harbors or tolerates racist beliefs.

Alas, the election of President Obama and its illustration that in the voting booth (and most probably in the workplace and in the classroom) non-Black people can decouple their personally held anti-Black feelings from their public role as citizens, employers, employees, teachers, and student provides a glimmer of hope for such circumstances. A white professor who does not believe that Black people are as intelligent as non-Black groups, will probably still give a Black student in her class the grade he has earned. The student’s success in the class is, thankfully enough, not dependent on the personal transformation of that professor’s own racist beliefs.

This may seem like a very mixed blessing; anti-Black prejudice is still rampant, but  Black people perceive its effects as much less debilitating. When compared with Black people’s traditional understanding of racism as something that would have to be completely eliminated before African Americans could achieve true political, social, and economic power and self-determination the realities that Barack Obama’s election reveal about race feel an awful lot like liberation.

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Dr. Raynard S. Kington Takes the Helm at Grinnell College

February 20th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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Dr. Raynard S. Kington, the newly-appointed president of Grinnell College in Iowa.

(Photo Source: Environmental Factor, the NIEHS News Blog)

On February 17, 2010, the Grinnell Board of Trustees announced that Raynard S. Kington, M.D., Ph.D.,  the current deputy director of the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.), will become the president of Grinnell College. This press release from PR Newswire describes the extraordinary educational achievements that launched Dr. Kington’s distinguished career:

Dr. Kington’s personal example underscores his commitment to educational excellence.  At the age of 16, he entered a combined undergraduate-medical school program at the University of Michigan that allowed him to earn his B.S. when he was 19 and his M.D. when he was just 21 years old. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Michael Reese Medical Center in Chicago and was appointed a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, he completed his M.B.A. and Ph.D. with a concentration in health policy and economics at The Wharton School.

Kington becomes Grinnell’s 13th president at a time of great prosperity. PR Newswire reports that during the previous president’s tenure,

the college generously enhanced its financial aid policies to continue to meet the full, demonstrated need of domestic students; established the Expanding Knowledge Initiative, a program that facilitates interdisciplinary study; initiated a master facilities planning process that led to significant enhancements of its buildings and campus; and instituted a proactive recruitment effort that is substantially broadening diversity within the faculty and student body.

Dr. Kington’s challenge, then, will be to maintain and, then, to build on and enhance the college’s growth and development in all areas, from the financial to the academic.

An openly gay African American man whose partner is also a physician, Dr. Kington introduces his family in the following inauguration video. Look for the moments when their son upstages his dad and adds some welcome levity to the otherwise solemn proceedings.

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Tragic Murder at the University of Alabama Leaves 3 Dead

February 17th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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University of Alabama shooting victims (left to right), Dr. Adriel Davis, Dr. Gopi Podila, and Dr. Maria Ragland Davis.

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My long silence on this story is only a reflection of the failure of language to express my sadness over this senseless crime. Many have hypothesized that the accused murderer, Dr. Amy Bishop, was seeking revenge after being denied tenure. Alas, this explanation fails to account for the fact that literally thousands of people are denied tenure every year. The process is stressful and often confounding for faculty members under review; and yet few have ever taken up arms against their colleagues in response to a tenure denial.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of the deceased; and I will keep the injured survivors in my thoughts and prayers. From all reports, the deceased faculty members — Dr. Gopi K. Podila, Dr. Maria Ragland Davis, and Dr. Adriel D. Johnson — were well-respected scholars and teachers, beloved by students. Dr. Davis and Dr. Johnson, both African American, were each very committed to increasing minority participation in the sciences.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Dr. Ariel D. Johnson was, “widely recognized for his support of black students interested in pursuing careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.” In addition, “He directed the campus chapter of the Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. His wife, Jacqueline U. Johnson, a veterinarian who teaches at Alabama A&M University, was a principal investigator for the alliance, which is backed by the National Science Foundation.”

The Chronicle had this to say about Dr. Maria Ragland Davis and her commitment to increasing minority participation in the sciences,

She also specialized in student encouragement, said C.S. Prakash, a professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, Ms. Davis’s friend of almost 20 years. He said she was committed to involving young people, especially minority students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in science. That commitment dated back to when she was working in the private sector, he said.

“She was one of very few African-American scientists,” Mr. Prakash said. “She was a great role model.”

Over the years, Mr. Prakash would ask Ms. Davis to come speak to students at Tuskegee, a historically black institution, about working in the sciences. “She was always willing to come and help us out,” he said. Ms. Davis was personable and affable, Mr. Prakash said, and students responded to her enthusiasm for science. “She had a way of connecting with many of them.” He believes Ms. Davis motivated hundreds of students to go into science during her lifetime. “I think that is going to be her legacy.”

Although there has been no indication that the murders of Dr. Padila, Dr. Davis, and Dr. Johnson will be investigated as a hate crime, the fact that Dr. Bishop shot four out of the 5 minority professors in her department does give me pause. UC – Santa Barbara English Professor Chris Newfield expresses similar concerns:

The Department of Biological Sciences at UA Huntsville lists 14 faculty members on its website.   Five of them were faculty of color.  Bishop apparently killed three of the five, and tried to kill a fourth.  Joseph D. Ng, an Asian American, is one of two surviving faculty of color in the department, and the only one who was unharmed.

Much of the coverage is skeptical about the explanation of revenge for a tenure denial, and this skepticism is fueled by Bishop’s apparent murder of her lead supporter, the department chair. Although two surviving victimes, Leahy and Monticciolo, are white, it is worth asking whether this might have been a racial hate crime.

— from “Alabama Professor Kills Colleagues in Faculty Meeting, published on Prof. Newfield’s blog, Crime Log

In a sense, the motivation for this crime matters less than the fact that so many lives and so much talent, experience, intelligence, and skill are now lost the University of Alabama and to science in general; and, of course, none of this compares to the grief that is now a daily and painful reality for the loved ones of the deceased.

With any hope, no such horror will ever take place on a college campus, ever again.

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The Earthquake in Haiti: How You Can Help

January 14th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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Time is of the essence in any crisis, and especially one in which reaching trapped men, women, and children as soon as possible can mean many lives saved.

Many thanks to those bloggers who have posted information on how and where to donate money to the relief and rescue effort, especially Villager at Electronic Village and Clnmike at The Happy Go Lucky Bachelor.

Please do all that you can, and as quickly as you are able.

Follow THIS LINK to the Electronic Village blogpost on how we can help with the Haiti earthquake relief and rescue effort. You will find tips for deciding how to best apply your resources as well as helpful links to reputable aid agencies that are accepting donations.

For all of those who have family and friends in Haiti, please know that you and your loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.

For all of us who are impacted more indirectly, let us manifest our grief and compassion in direct and palpable ways. This is one clear instance in which the actions of an individual can truly make a difference.

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(Not So) Wordless Wednesday: Alpha Phi Alpha, a Fraternity in Crisis

January 13th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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Members of the University of Pittsburgh chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., photographed in 1918.

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I can only wonder what these gentlemen would think about the current state of their organization. Earlier this month, Alpha Phi Alpha General President Herman “Skip” Mason, Jr. suspended the intake of new members for all chapters, citing “the failure of some […] members to behave honorably and with care.”

Mason’s actions come on the heels of the most recent hazing incident, in which Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member Bryson Trumaine Amey (age 21) was arrested and charged with aggravated battery in connection with a hazing incident that took place in late November, at Fort Valley State University. The incident resulted in the hospitalization of fraternity pledge Brian Tukes (age 19) who was suffering from acute renal failure, the apparent victim of a severe beating at the chapter’s fraternity house.

I applaud the actions of the Alpha Phi Alpha National President. This oldest of all the African American Greek letter organizations has a proud and distinguished history, and Alpha Phi Alpha continues to play an important role in the education of African American men. The persistent problem of hazing, though, is a shameful mark on the reputation and legacy of this otherwise admirable group. Life-threatening violence does more to rend the bonds of brotherhood than it does to build and strengthen them, and until the entire membership of Alpha Phi Alpha can understand and internalize this key idea, then the pledge process must necessarily be suspended, lest another young man suffer injury or even death at the hands of his would-be brothers.

To read more about Alpha Phi Alpha’s current freeze on membership, follow THIS LINK.

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The Quotable Black Scholar: Charles Johnson on Black America in the 21st Century

January 10th, 2010 by Ajuan Mance

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Charles Johnson (b. 1948)

(Source: University Week)

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When we have the first black president of the United States of America, who is sworn to serve all people, it’s a whole different cultural moment. The NAACP and some of the other organizations … I’m not going to say they’re locked in the past, but I will say that their hour of necessity is not the same as it was in the ‘30s and ‘40s. We [black people] have internal questions that must be addressed. I think those are properly the territory of the NAACP, the Urban League and all of our organizations. We’re looking at two black Americas right now. We have black people who are billionaires. Oprah Winfrey has her own network. We have black people all over every area you can conceivably think of. At the same time, we have these egregious situations, a lot of which focus on black males. Black male culture catches up to many kids by the time they’re 8 years old. There’s a lot of cleaning up we have to do in the 21st century if we wish to survive competitively as a people in a global, knowledge-based economy. We’re not just competing with white people in America anymore. We’re competing with people in India and China for jobs. There’s an awful lot that has to be done, and it’s all about education. It’s an interesting moment.

from “The Root Interview: Charles Johnson,” by Michael E. Ross, published on TheRoot.com.

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Biographical Notes: Winner of the 1990 National Book Award for his groundbreaking novel, Middle Passage, Charles Johnson holds a B.S. and an M.A., both from Southern Illinois University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the State University of New York at Stonybrook.

The Pollock Professor of English at the University of Washington, Johnson is the author of 16 books, including the novels Middle Passage, Oxherding Tale, and Faith and the Good Thing. In 1998 Johnson was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius prize.” He has also been the recipient of NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. A cartoonist and screenwriter as well as a novelist, Johnson has published two collections of his humorous drawings and more than 20 screenplays.

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