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The Disturbing Dual Reality For Black Students At Liberal Arts Colleges

by Black America Web

Black students reported stress as a result of trying to downplay their cultural identities.

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In her forthcoming book, “The Impact of College Diversity: Struggles and Successes at Age 30,” Amherst College psychology professor Elizabeth Aries discovered a disturbing dual reality for Black students going to the small, private liberal arts college where she teaches. On the one hand, interacting with students from different backgrounds better prepared them for the world of higher education and work. But Black students also felt pressured to sacrifice their cultural identities in favor of “whiteness” in order to succeed. In the following Q&A, Aries elaborates on her findings and what they mean as the Supreme Court decides whether to restrict or outlaw the use of race in college admissions.

1. What prompted you to do this research?

In 2003, Amherst College began to more actively recruit and enroll students of color and individuals from low-income backgrounds. The idea was to promote equity and social mobility. But the effort was also driven by the belief that students benefit educationally when they interact daily with classmates whose experiences and views are different from their own.

I wanted to understand how living in a diverse community would affect students. To do that, I interviewed Black and white students, both affluent and lower-income, three times over a period of 12 years. The interviews were conducted during their first year of college, at the end of their senior year and at age 30.

I chronicled the nature and extent of what students learned about race and class from engagement with racially and socioeconomically diverse classmates. I also examined the challenges students faced on campus because of their race and class. I believe my findings have great relevance at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is about to again consider the legality of the use of race in admission decisions.

2. What is the main takeaway…

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