Negative Perceptions and the Black Male Student Experience

Negative perceptions about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) may draw gifted black male students away from such institutions, according to a report released earlier this year.

The report, authored by Shaun Harper at the University of Pennsylvania, offered clues to the black male student experience. A majority of the study’s respondents said they chose to attend HBCUs because of the schools’ reputations as nurturers of black educational attainments. Interestingly, many students who had been also accepted to predominantly white institutions had been dissuaded from attending HBCUs by white counselors at these institutions. The counselors said attendance at HBCUs would negatively affect student careers.

The problem with such pronouncements seems to be one of perception. A 1999 study found that black teachers are more liable to cast black male students in a positive light as compared to their white peers. The study said these instructors are more likely to describe their students as “intellectually gifted” or use positive language to describe their achievements.

However, at some institutions, positive image reinforcement starts in high school. The principal of Mount Vernon High School in Virginia, Nardos King, has established a program called Men of Vision and Purpose (MVP). The program puts 62 black students in a leadership class to develop their skills and raise academic achievement levels. Principal Nardos King says she hopes to counter negative perceptions about black male students through this program.

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