Across the nation, racial tensions continue to grow. And while Americans would like to believe their children are safe on their college campuses, the reality is that students of color face substantial pressures that extend beyond cramming for exams or rushing a sorority. Although getting into an Ivy League school may be viewed as an achievement for any prospective student, more and more African-Americans are ditching those predominantly white institutions for the sake of their own safety and peace of mind.
University of Pennsylvania researchers found that almost a third of historic black colleges and universities have experienced at least a 20% increase in applications during the last three years. Among other possible causes, this trend is likely a reaction to black students’ documented experiences at white colleges.
According to a paper published in 2015, university professors Ebony McGee and David Stovall found that African-American students on majority-white college campuses suffer from “physical and mental wear-and-tear that contributes to a host of psychological and physical ailments.” And while obvious racial profiling does occur, it’s the implicit prejudice against these black students that takes a real toll.
For instance, one black Georgia Tech. student was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder due to the constant pressure to prove himself to white students and professors. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18. But they represent a troubling trend among black students on white campuses.
“We have documented alarming occurrences of anxiety, stress, depression and thoughts of suicide, as well as a host of physical ailments like hair loss, diabetes and heart disease,” said McGee. She adds, “We have witnessed black students work themselves to the point of extreme illness in attempting to escape the constant threat of perceived intellectual inferiority.”
Some social activist groups are calling on their institutions to create safe spaces for black students. Although the University of Michigan is currently building a $10 million multicultural center, the group, called Students4Justice, stresses that people of color need a designated space for the purposes of community organization and social justice.
But other students want to avoid the situation altogether. Rather than being forced to question their own intellect and capabilities, many African-Americans are choosing to attend HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities. Their diverse student populations often offer a priceless sense of belonging and personal safety that PWIs (predominantly white institutions) do not. For many black parents and students, being able to obtain an excellent education with fewer social pressures is well worth crossing Yale off the list.