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Black college students at predominantly white campuses feel internal cultural tension

by Silas Allen Published: July 21, 2013

“I want to make it, have a job ... and they keep asking why I'm not married,” the student said. “I don't even bother explaining the idea that I am preparing myself for law school.”

Lee, an African American Studies major at OU, said he notices that difference when he returns to Texas and talks to family and neighbors in the neighborhood where he grew up. Family and friends treat him with greater privilege, he said. He's also more aware of the poverty and drug use in the neighborhood than he was while he was growing up, he said.

One of the study's authors said colleges and universities need to do a better job of engaging black college students and their communities.

Jake Simmons, a professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, said schools could help alleviate that tension by implementing programs that reach out not only to students, but also to their families and home communities to let them know what's happening on campus.

Simmons said universities could also develop multicultural programs that do a better job of representing the entirety of students' home cultures, rather than simply holding a stereotypical celebration for major holidays.

Spencer Davis, an OU student from Tulsa, said he's felt the conflict between his own heritage and the surrounding culture since before he came to OU. Davis, who is black, attended Jenks High School, which is predominantly white.

Davis, 19, is a second-generation college student — his father graduated from OU and his mother has a degree from the University of Tulsa.

When Davis was in high school, it was obvious that he was in the minority, he said. He felt the internal conflict between his heritage and his surroundings then, he said, but he adopted the speech patterns and culture of the people around him.

After a while, Davis realized he wasn't totally comfortable speaking with other black people, he said. When he came to OU, his social network broadened to include friends from several races. But he still feels like he belongs to multiple groups, leaving him to figure out where he fits.

“It hasn't really impeded me,” he said. “I've definitely managed to navigate it now.”