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Q & A with Ivory Toldson

Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities



Last week, Howard University professor Dr. Ivory Toldson visited Lemoyne-Owen College, the only historically black college in Memphis, to discuss some of the barriers that hinder black male students from pursuing post-secondary education.

In his lecture, Toldson discussed the significance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and revealed how they could help more black male students participate effectively in college.

Toldson spoke with the Flyer about some of the issues that black males encounter during high school that eventually affect their desire to pursue higher education. He also talked about how HBCUs can combat these challenges.

Flyer: What factors hinder black males from going to college?
Toldson: One is disproportionality in discipline. Young black males are suspended for various things at a much higher rate than other race groups. It's not because they have worse behaviors, which is what people commonly think. It's because they're more likely to be in schools with zero-tolerance disciplinary policies.

Another issue is the availability of a rigorous curriculum in schools that have the highest percentage of black male students. Those are much less likely to offer algebra 2, calculus, and physics. Some of these classes aren't actually required to get into college, but all of these classes are necessary so that students can compete effectively once they are in college.

How can HBCUs help combat these challenges?
A lot of HBCUs have law schools or criminal justice programs, so they could set up call lines or training resources for schools and parents. Perhaps a parent of some kid who's been suspended for 10 days for fighting at school [doesn't] believe the kid actually started it and thinks the kid needs to be given a second chance. There are experts at HBCUs that are well-equipped to help mediate some of those issues.

Another thing is teacher preparation at the schools that educate the largest percentage of black kids. Black kids are more likely to have a teacher [who has fewer] years of teaching experience, misses more days of school, and is paid less on average than public schools who have a large percentage of white kids. Some universities have been very effective at creating training programs for teachers and participating in the in-service training and continued education training of teachers. We want to see HBCUs take more leadership in that.

Why target black male students rather than females?
The data that we have shows that black males tend to be the most adversely affected by a lot of policies that exist. Specifically, with HBCUs, we see that black females participate in HBCUs a lot more. Also, black female students graduate at a higher rate than black males. We know that a lot of the reasons stem from things like discipline and the fact that some black males may be considered more threatening in their school environment because of biases.

Do you think it's more beneficial for African Americans to attend HBCUs rather than other schools?
HBCUs offer some clear advantages over other universities for a lot of black students. When we look at the top producers of black students who go on to get advanced degrees in [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), we see that HBCUs top those lists.

I think having professors and faculty who understand your cultural background is an advantage of going to an HBCU. Faculty participates in the development of their students a lot more than what we would see in some of the big state universities.

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