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Being Black & Bleeding Blue: A Quantitative look at the Experience of

African American Alumni at a Predominantly White Institutions.

Amanda Shropshire
Undergraduate
Saint Mary’s College
Ashrop01@saintmarys.edu
December 11, 2006
Faculty Advisor: Susan Alexander
e-mail address: salexand@saintmarys.edu

ABSTRACT

This paper focuses on the social and academic experiences of African American
Alumnae who attended predominantly White higher education institutions Saint Mary’s
College. A survey was administered to alumnae from these institutions to assess the
quality of their educational experience based on academic outcome, social interactions;
and their quality of life after graduation. There was a similarity among their experiences
pertaining to race across all variables. However most respondents reported that while
they had many negative experiences due to their race, they felt comfortable at their
academic institution. Overall, most respondents stated that regardless of their
experience, they would still recommend their institution to another minority student.
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Being Black & Bleeding Blue: A Quantitative look at the Experience of


African American Alumni at a Predominantly White Institution.

The racial make-up of a person’s surroundings can impact one’s experience with

regards to their comfort level in that environment. As a discipline, sociology addresses

such concerns through research on “assimilation” and “dominant culture”. Sociologists

describe the affect of a person’s racial surroundings on aspects of their life, especially the

educational system.

In institutions of higher education, people may judge their experience by their

academic success, social involvement, and their preparation for post-graduate work.

However, those factors also depend heavily on a person’s surroundings. A central

component of a student’s educational surroundings is the racial make-up of the academic

institution in terms of the ratio between minorities and the dominant culture.

African Americans at predominantly White institutions, will assess their overall

time in college experiences positive or negative by referencing their experience as a

minority student and their own comfort level. Racialzed surroundings have been a factor

in American education for hundreds of years at times producing segregation and at other

times colleges for Blacks. Today, the influence of racial surroundings in higher education

has become less visible on a structural level, but the effects for individual students may

be just as extreme.

Administration at various colleges and universities have tried to improve the

comfort levels of minority students at predominantly White institutions by implementing

diversity programs, extending the curriculum, allowing ethnic organization, and hiring

minority faculty. However, African Americans in predominantly White institutions still


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may experience negative affects that shape a student’s overall college experience. This

study will examine the experience and comfort level of African American alumnae of

Saint Mary’s College through a racial lens in order to assess their academic success,

postgraduate achievements, and advocacy of the institution.

Literature Review

In recent years, scholars have produced research on African Americans in

predominantly White institutions. As a result, efforts toward increasing diversity and

benefits for African American minorities in colleges and universities have been an

influential factor in increasing minority attendance at selective colleges and universities.

Much of this research also includes a joint assessment of predominantly White

institutions (PWI’s) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s),

comparing the experiences of African Americans in both settings. (See: Kim and Conrad

2006; Chavous and Harris 2004; Kim 2002; Allen, Haniff and Epps 1991; Fleming 1984.)

There has been an observed link between the perception of campus climate and

student’s academic achievement. Hurtado (1992) argues that campus racial conflicts are

connected to elements in institutions’ racial climate that sustain the relationship between

African-American students and their White peers, faculty and administration. The

assumed affects of the campuses racial climate have prompted scholars to compare

predominantly White institutions and historically Black colleges and universities to

assess the affects of these interactions on academic achievement, social mobility,

development, psychological factors, and student persistence.


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HBCU’s vs. PWI’s: Factors affecting academic, social and psychological well-being.

Kim (2002) and Kim and Conrad (2006) analyze the effectiveness of HBCU’s and

PWI’s in developing African American student’s academic and cognitive abilities.

Although the two types of institutions differ dramatically in terms of resources, both

studies conclude, that there is no difference between HBCU’s and PWI’s in terms of the

students’ academic ability nor does it interfere with degree completion. These modern

studies may show development beyond the initial studies that indicated a strong

relationship between campus racial climate factors and the academics and social

achievement of African American students. In previous research, Allen, Epps and Haniff

(1991) and Fleming (1984) both argue that while individual characteristics play a role in

achievement, the quality of life weighs heavily upon psychosocial well-being.

Fleming (1984) assesses Black student’s “psychosocial adaptation” and

“intellectual performance” as essential for college success. In this study, gender proves to

be a factor in psychosocial studies of African Americans at PWI’s and HBCU’s indicating

that Black females adapt more positively to a predominantly White institution than do

Black males. Fleming (1984) also notes that both Black and White women are more

academically and socially successful in a women’s college. Chavous, Harris, Rivas,

Helaire and Green (2004) reference both Allen, Fleming and Davis in their assessment of

racial stereotypes and gender in both HBCU’s and PWI’s. Results show that women

achieve higher education at better rates than men attributing to racial climate barriers that

affect men and women differently. (Chavous, Harris, Rivas, Helaire and Green (2004) In

a study of 143 undergraduate students at a large Midwestern, public PWI they find that

while racial climate and discrimination affect the college experiences of women, being
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female and an ethnic minority may cause more subtle forms of discrimination than men,

allowing them to tolerate their environment. (Chavous, Harris, Rivas, Helaire and Green

(2004))

While the literature suggest a relationship between racial climate and academic

achievement, it also suggests a relationship between racial climate and non-cognitive

factors such as; race-related experiences, social support, perceived environment, and

involvement on comfort and social success (MacKay and Kuh 1994, Sedlacek 1999,

Smith and Baruch 1981, and Hurtado 1992) Gloria (1999) and Hurtado argue that factors

such as social support, university comfort and self-beliefs are all important factors for a

student having a negative or positive collegial experience. Davis and Bowie (2004) and

Lewis, Chesler and Forman (2000) argue that non-cognitive factors indicatory of a tense

racial climate such as discrimination, colorblindness, and stereotypes negatively affect an

African American student on a predominantly White campus. However tolerance of these

factors can be directly related to a student’s background, thus, affecting how they adjust

to these experiences on campus.

Massey, Charles, Lundy and Fischer (2003) argue that school quality; socio-

economic background and racial composition of a student’s high school can directly

affect how they adjust to life on a predominantly White college campus. In their book,

Source of the River, researchers assessed the psychological vulnerabilities to racially

negative experiences such as stereotyping and discrimination, of African Americans.

Background variables indicating strong infrastructure of high school in terms of teachers

and resources as well as a high amount of contact with other White students, African
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Americans attending predominantly White colleges were not as vulnerable to campus

racial tensions as those from predominantly Black high schools with less resources.

The literature suggests that while there has been a strong correlation between

academic success and racial campus climate experiences, the dynamics are changing,

therefore administrators, faculty, staff and students should be aware of possible negative

influences on African American students’ comfort level while attending a predominantly

White college or university. This study hopes to raise awareness about the specific factors

impacting African American women at Saint Mary’s College.

Theory of “Double Consciousness” and PWI’s

When assessing the effect of predominantly white institutions on the Black

student experience today, one cannot ignore the history and evolution of African

American education. Over the past 150 years, higher education for African Americans has

been an evolving concept, impacting each generation of Black students differently. Today,

African Americans have an equal opportunity to attend all colleges and universities.

However, at many elite colleges and universities the ethnic population still remains

predominantly White, and the transition into these institutions for African American

students can be very difficult.

In W.E.B Dubois’ “Souls of Black Folk,” (1903) he introduced the now well-

known concept of “double-consciousness” when referring to the African American inner

conflict from living in a Western dominated culture. Dubois argues that African

Americans must maintain a sense of pride in African and Black culture and

simultaneously include positive representations of the dominant culture in their lives.


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“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton 
and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil,
and gifted with second­sight in this American world, a world 
which yields him no true self­consciousness, but only lets him see 
himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar 
sensation, this double­consciousness, this sense of always looking 
at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by
the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One
never feels his two­ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two 
thoughts, two un­reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one 
dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn 
asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this 
strife, this longing to attain self­conscious manhood, to merge his 
double self into a better and truer self.”(Dubois, 1903)

The theory suggests that due to this double consciousness, African Americans

define themselves by the opinion of the dominant culture leaving them with no true self-

identity. Dubois attributed this way of thought to hundreds of years of oppression, slavery

and institutionalized racism having a heavy impact on the African American mind

(Aldridge, 1999, p. 188) While Dubois’ theory of double-consciousness pertains to

African Americans in society overall, it can also relate to the internal conflict of African

Americans attending predominantly White institutions. Aldridge (1999, p. 188) suggests,

“W.E.B Dubois left the most comprehensive set of writings and views from which

educators and policymakers can obtain a textualized, historical and African American

based perspective on education.” Dubois attributes this theory to the way Blacks perceive

certain aspects of mainstream society such as the importance of formal education vs.

gaining knowledge of their own culture. According to Aldridge (1999, p. 189) Dubois

would advocate that only those students with a strong economic, cultural and community-

based background would be able transcend double consciousness.


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Slavery generally prohibited education for African Americans as a whole. The

legacy of slavery may have prompted the development of Historically Black colleges and

universities (HBCU’s), and then future of educational opportunities. Following Brown vs.

Board of Education in 1954, Blacks and Whites went through a painful transition of

integrated education on all levels. While Dubois believed that new legislative decisions

were positive, he urged African Americans of the time to take well-planned steps into

integration. His theory was that unless African American children had a firm grasp on

their own ethnic values and culturally satisfied politically, economically and socially,

integration would not be positive. Aldridge (1999, p. 190) states that the Marx based

theory of “economic determinism” included in Dubois’ opinions on integration was to

take advantage of segregated communities and create African enclaves. By doing so,

Blacks would be able to build strong communities of consumers and entrepreneurs,

making African American students competitive on levels of class, educational standards,

and mental strength. To some, this may serve as an explanation for the challenges African

Americans faced during the early phases of educational integration.

“The object of that plan is two-fold: first to make it possible for the
Negro group to await its ultimate emancipation with reasoned patience, with
equitable temper and with every possible effort to raise the social status and
increase the efficiency of the group. And secondly and just as important, the
ultimate object of the plan is to obtain admission of the colored group to
cooperation and incorporation into the White group on the best possible terms.”
(Dubois, 1940/1984, p.200)

In 2006, some 50 years after integration into elite colleges and universities

population in these schools still remain predominantly White. Dubois’ framework of the

African American experience of “double-consciousness” in a predominantly White

setting has become a key to understanding the Black experience at Predominantly White
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Institutions. The relationship between challenges such as social acceptance, academic

success, post-college ambitions, and the experience of African Americans can connect

directly with feelings of maintaining a “double-consciousness” at these institutions. At

Saint Mary’s College, the African American population remains small in comparison to

other minority groups on campus or at other higher educational institutions. While

institutional efforts to increase diversity are present, Dubois’ theory of double

consciousness indicates that the retention and success of a student may rest upon Black

cultural concepts that are absent from the framework of a predominantly White

institution. If the percentage of Black students were to rise, examining their experiences

are necessary in order to facilitate a smoother transition for each generation.

Methods

The data for this study came from a survey/questionnaire administered to African

American alumnae at Saint Mary’s College during October and November of 2006. This

predominantly white institution is located in South Bend,. An email was sent to 32

African American alumnae asking them to participate in a thirty-question survey which

was administered through the website www.SurveyMonkey.com. The sample was

identified by a list of all African American alumnae provided by the Saint Mary’s College

Alumnae Office. The alumnae with available email addresses were chosen from the list.

This research assesses the experiences of a non-random purposive sample of 32

alumnae total, ranging in the ages between 23-75 years. There was a 47% response rate, a

total of 14 alumnae from the list of 32 participants. All participants were female alumnae

from Saint Mary’s College ranging in graduation years from 1972 to 2004.
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This study had weaknesses due to the sampling method, lack of qualitative data,

and time constraint due to problems with the original study. Originally this study was to

administer a survey to alumni from both the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s

College. However, due to the problem of “gatekeepers” denying access to the list of

Black alumni from the University of Notre Dame, the research including those subjects

could not be completed. Unfortunately, the reasons for not completing the research at the

University were not specified until very late in the research process and alternative-

sampling methods could not be done.

The weakness of this purposive methodology using only Saint Mary’s alumnae

was a small response rate. Although the responses rate was high in terms of the

population, it is not a representative sample for all predominantly White institutions.

Another weakness of this survey/questionnaire method was limited information that

points to areas for further research. In future research, both interviews and surveys should

be administered. A strength of this research includes the individual response to survey

questions. This research will serve as an exploratory study for further research of African

American alumnae at Saint Mary’s College.

Findings

The survey was constructed so the respondent was asked questions pertaining to

their background, experiences in college and their post college status. The respondents

were also asked general questions indicating their “Comfort Level” with five levels of

measurement, and this comfort level was compared to groups of questions that

collectively asked about background, college experience and post college status. The

respondents chose “Very Comfortable”, “Comfortable”, “Somewhat Comfortable”,


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“Uncomfortable” and “Very Uncomfortable”. This was a self-assessment of comfort level

and the perception of comfort for each respondent may vary. Table 1: African American

College Comfort Level Vs. College Experience shows the results for how comfortable

respondents were in comparison to their experiences with the campus racial climate. The

questions are broken down by those “Comfortable” and “Uncomfortable” and some of

their experiences asked in matrix question number 29 of the survey, in addition to

showing overall response percentage

Table 1: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. College Experience
with Racial Climate
Table. 1
Comfortable Uncomfortable TOTAL
Ans. "yes" to experienced
racial discrimination. 10/14 0/2 62.50%
Ans. "yes" to being
stereotyped by a White
student. 12/14 1/2 81.25%
Ans. "yes" to negatively
affected by African
American population. 6/14 1/2 43.75%
Ans. "yes" to being
dissatisfied with ethnic
diversity on campus. 12/14 1/2 81.25%
Ans. "yes" to being
dissatisfied with religious
diversity on campus. 8/14 1/2 56.25%
Found outreach by
multicultural office "Not
Satisfactory". 5/14 0/2 31.25%
Expressed feeling social
alienation by White
students. 6/14 1/2 43.75%

Most respondents indicated feeling comfortable at Saint Mary’s College overall

than feeling uncomfortable, this is shown by 14 out of the total 16 respondents indicating

feeling either very comfortable, comfortable or somewhat comfortable in the survey.

Despite the high level of comfort at Saint Mary’s indicated by the respondents, the data
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shows that most respondents experienced instances of discrimination, stereotyping or

alienation in addition to negative attitudes toward the college’s lack of diversity and

outreach by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The majority of those respondents who were comfortable at Saint Mary’s

indicated experiencing racial discrimination, stereotypes and being dissatisfied with the

ethnic diversity on campus. 10 out of 14 of those comfortable respondents experienced

discrimination on campus while zero of those with an uncomfortable attitude indicated

experiencing discrimination. This leaves 62.5% of total respondents, all comfortable,

experiencing discrimination while a student at Saint Mary’s College. In addition, 12 out

of 14 comfortable respondents indicated being racially stereotyped and having a

dissatisfied attitude toward the ethnic diversity on campus in comparison to one out of the

two uncomfortable respondents indicated these experiences and attitudes.

Table 2: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. Background Experience
Table. 2
Comfortable Uncomfortable TOTAL
Attended Predominantly
White High School. 8/14 1/2 56.25%
Attended Racially Mixed
High School. 5/14 1/2 37.50%
Non-Catholic 10/14 1/2 68.75%

Considered Diversity in
decision to attend the college. 3/14 0/2 18.75%

In Table 2: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. Background

Experience, the same groups of comfort are used. Those indicating variations of

comfortable and uncomfortable in question number 31 on the survey were compared to

the questions assessing the respondents’ background. The background areas are based on
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factors that may influence the respondents’ comfort level at the college in reference to

their experiences with the campus racial climate. The questions assess the racial makeup

of their high school, the emphasis of diversity in their decision to attend Saint Mary’s

College, and their religious affiliation with respect to the college’s Catholic background.

A high number of respondents reported being non-Catholic, 10 out of 14 of those

indicating feeling comfortable described their religious affiliation as something other than

Catholic in comparison to one out of those uncomfortable respondents with the same

response. 68.7% of the total respondents did not indicate their religious affiliation as

Non-Catholic; however, some did choose some variation of Christianity.

Over half of those respondents with comfortable attitudes described the racial

makeup of their high school as predominantly White and five out of 14 respondents

described their high school as being racially mixed or diverse. One respondent from the

uncomfortable group described their high school as being predominantly White and the

other’s high school was described as racially mixed. Overall there is a low percentage of

those respondents, comfortable and uncomfortable, that considered diversity in their

decision to attend college, only 3 out of 14 said diversity was considered from those

comfortable and zero of those uncomfortable indicated diversity as a consideration.

Table 3: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. Experience with

Campus Participation, those respondents indicating their attitudes toward the college

being comfortable and uncomfortable are shown. Their comfort levels are compared with

their areas of college participation, a factor known to influence and African American

student’s perception of their predominantly White environment. The areas of participation

measured are campus clubs, athletics and religious services.


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Table 3: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. Experience with Campus
Participation
Table. 3
Comfortable Uncomfortable TOTAL
Member of Campus
Clubs 10/14 2/2 75.00%
Attended On Campus
Religious Service. 3/14 1/2 25.00%

Accompanied by 10 or
more African Americans
while attending the
college. 8/14 1/2 56.25%
Student Athlete 1/14 0/2 6.25%

Seventy-five percent of the total sixteen respondents indicated that they were

members of campus clubs which indicates a high level of campus involvement overall.

There was a 100% response that those with uncomfortable attitudes were members of

campus clubs and organizations compared to the 10 out of 14 comfortable respondents

involved with campus activities.

A high number of participants indicated that there were 10 or more African

Americans attending Saint Mary’s at the same time they were. An extremely low number

of participants classified themselves as a student athlete, showing only 6.25% of total

respondents as athletes, with the one person belonging to the group that experienced high

levels of comfort at the college.


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Table 4: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. Post College
Attitudes/Success
Table. 4
Comfortable Uncomfortable TOTAL
Grade Point Average
above 3.0. 4/14 1/2 31.25%
Marital Status 3/14 1/2 25.00%
Earnings of 50,000 and
above. 10/14 2/2 75.00%
Would recommend the
college to another
African American
student. 10/14 1/2 68.75%

In Table 4: African American Alumnae College Comfort Level Vs. Post College

Attitudes/Success, respondents’ comfort level was also compared to factors assessing

their level of postgraduate success and attitudes. These were based on final grade point

average, marital status, annual earnings and their attitudes on recommending the college

to another African American student. 68.75% of all respondents answered “Yes” that they

would recommend Saint Mary’s College to another African American based on their

experiences as a minority student, 10 out of 14 being comfortable and 2 out of 2 being

uncomfortable.

The data also indicates the socio-economic status of the respondents by indicating

their annual earnings. In addition, earnings of $50,000.00 or more would classify

participants as part of the middle class as per the commonly known Dennis Gilbert class

model. This is shown due to 10 out of 14 comfortable participants that indicated earning

$50,000.00 and above, 2 out of 2 of those uncomfortable are also in this category

displaying 75% of participants being members of the middle class.


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Discussion

Overall this study shows that African American alumnae of Saint Mary’s College

have maintained a high level of comfort with the college indicating an overall positive

experience. Saint Mary’s is a predominantly White institution lacking racial, ethnic and

religious diversity. The research shows that due to the homogeneity of the student body,

African American alumnae of the college have endured a variety of negative experiences

such as discrimination, stereotypes, feelings of social alienation and attitudes of

dissatisfaction toward the college’s diversity efforts.

However, the most important correlation found was the level of comfort and

campus experiences in reference to the racial climate. Those indicating a high comfort

level also indicated having negative racial experiences, with an overall low number of

respondents indicating being uncomfortable at the college. In addition, respondents

indicated high levels of success in respect to achieved socio-economic status based on

occupation and income.

A number of reasons can be used to explain the high level of comfort and

postgraduate success despite negative experiences with the campus racial climate. As the

literature indicates, African American females are more likely to excel in predominantly

White settings, moreover those attending women’s liberal arts colleges. Since Saint

Mary’s is an all women’s college this factor accounts for higher comfort levels. Thus

gender may be a significant factor in one’s educational process and positively impacts

African American women in this setting.

Another explanation may be the high tolerance levels of the participants due to

their background. Many of the participants indicated attending predominantly White or


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racially diverse high schools before attending Saint Mary’s College. Comfort levels and

adjustment appeared easier for participants who had previously attended White high

schools, supporting the idea that preparation for racist treatment enhances possibilities of

coping. (Nghe & Mahalik, 2001; Davis & Bowie, 2004)

In conclusion, Dubois theory of double consciousness may apply to this

particular situation of Blacks within the White dominant culture. Over the years, African

Americans have mastered the technique of double consciousness and are able to be

successful in more than one setting. However, further research is necessary to completely

explore the experiences of African American students at predominantly White institutions

including a co-educational institution, a larger sample size and possibly qualitative data to

obtain a more in depth description of personal experience. A further investigation of

Blacks perception of self-while attending predominantly White institution’s might answer

the question. Overall, while Blacks in Predominantly White academic institutions may

have to balance double consciousness and still face experiences of a negative racial

climate, the data shows that the effects of attending these institutions do not have a

negative impact on their attitudes about the college experience.


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