When We Send Our Black and Brown Students to College, What Happens?

As a principal, father, and community member, I know from experience that our youth continue to need support and advocacy once they go on to pursue their post-secondary goals. As excited as our community is to collaborate with families as they attend college, we also have trepidation because for many of our students, college is the first experience many will have with blatant, in-your-face racism. I am not just talking about the type of racism that our alumni who attend University of Virginia saw up close.

In addition to the regular amount of unhealthy white supremacist messages I’m sure they they receive, Black college students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), my alma mater, were recently subjected to a racist message on social media.  A white student took a surreptitious picture of Black students in the library, minding their own business, accompanied with the caption of “Monkey stay in groups,” and posted on social media.

This is what our students are subjected to. Don’t think for a minute that Black and Brown students only receive this type of reception through social media. Some of it is far more visible and personal.

This week, Black students at Cabrini University experienced another version of the same racism. Go away nigger,” was written on the door of one of our recent graduates.

The Loquitur reports the story:

“Vann returned to Cabrini, while she initially planned on spending her night studying for her upcoming biology and Spanish exams, seeing an unexpected note on her door led her evening to play out much differently.

Vann approached the door to her dorm room in East Residence Hall around 11 p.m. and saw the offensive words, written in black permanent marker, right before her eyes. 

‘Most of the Halloween decorations on my door are black, so I did not notice it at first,’ Vann said. However, when she processed what was happening, she immediately sprang into action.”

Vann has a support system and other students at the college responded with words and actions of support. But, all Black students may not have the admirable support systems of Vann.

We aren’t naïve and we know with certainty, that colleges aren’t always bastions of equity and justice that folks like to pretend they are. As educators and parents, we will need to continue to help our students find the right post-secondary fit; social, academic, financial, etc. A vital aspect of our research must be helping our students find the colleges that honor our students’ humanity.

What do you think?

About the author

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

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