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Aug 12, 2013 11:25 AM EDT

Black Students Uncomfortable for Being Singled Out on Mostly-White College Campuses

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Black college students often do not have the same experience on campus that most white students do, usually for being singled out, Metro reported.

The study, named "Understanding the African-American Student Experience in Higher Education Through a Relational Dialectics Perspective," was published in mid-July, but has caught on recently.

It a qualitative study based on one of its co-authors' experience with his adopted son, who is African-American, and his experience at school. Russell Lowery-Hart, a white professor at West Texas A&M University at the time, said his son, attending the same school, had a different experience than expected.

"He would talk about his experiences, and they were just so different from what I thought they would be," said Hart, who now works at Amarillo College. "I wanted to explore and understand what it meant to be an African-American student at colleges similar to the one we were at."

The study analyzed 87 African-American students on three college campuses - two public and one private - in the Midwest and Southwest U.S. regions over a five-year span. The students were interviewed at length for the study's results.

Hart said three common themes appeared more than any others. First, students felt they were singled out in class discussions on black culture. Second, the participants said they were pulled from large freshman orientation groups to form a smaller one of African-American students. Third, students had a hard time adjusting to a campus of mostly white students.

"A lot of the literature around this topic frames this from an either-or mentality, as if students either want to be included or they want to be separate. But it's far more complicated than that," explains Lowery-Hart. "What we've discovered is that students want both. They want to honor their past and embrace their future."

The study's lead author, Jake Simmons, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Tex, agreed with this concept.

"Our data revealed that there are still major challenges for African-American students at predominantly white institutions of higher education," he told Newswise. "They feel tension between integrating into the dominant culture while honoring their own culture and black pride."

Nick Gilyard, a rising senior at Western Kentucky University, said he is routinely called upon for questions about African-American-related issues. He also said he's received unfair treatment because of vague campus crime alerts.

"We get safety emergency alerts via email and text, and the description is usually vague: '6-foot black male in jeans and a t-shirt,'" he said. "I've noticed in the aftermath of [those] texts that people walk faster in front of me, or avoid me. But luckily I haven't been confronted with blatant racism on campus."

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