Black Organizations on White Campuses: A Critical Analysis

Darius J. Beckham
Mar 10, 2017 · 3 min read

Building and maintaining membership of a student-led organization is an exceedingly difficult task. Furthermore, building and maintaining membership of a black student-led organization at a predominately white institution seems nearly impossible. The average percentage of black students on white campuses ranges from 5–10%. As a result, black organizations have very limited target populations. While each of the aforementioned campuses implements some variation of a multicultural center, these spaces generally offer faculty-led programming and serve essentially as support systems for minority groups. Separately, black student unions are designed to provide student-led activities aimed toward the interest of students of color. The inactivity of such organizations cannot simply be contributed to the modest population of black students on white campuses, insufficient programming and complacent leadership are also to be blamed.

What distinguishes the programming of multicultural centers from that of black student unions is the fact that events planned by black student unions are allowed to fail. Programs and events planned by multicultural centers, on the other hand, must succeed. Multicultural centers are intentionally created and uniquely staffed to incorporate culturally driven programs into the college or university experience. The director and assistant directors are hired to annually fulfill this purpose. There are ramifications if these individuals fail. The leaders of black student-led organizations are of course, held to a lesser standard. There are no penalties for planning an unsuccessful event, nor are there incentives for planning a successful one. Consequently, it becomes increasingly effortless to ease into a state of indifference. This mentality eventually dismisses and self sabotages any attempts to organize. Without taking into account the effects of their mistakes, it might appear to black student leaders that members have lost interest in their organization, when in reality they have not been afforded something to be interested in.

Despite the efforts of black organizations on white campuses, there exist a recognizable group of black students who are in fact, uninterested. Others are moderately interested, and a few are highly interested. Although they are not all inclusive, these groups are to be noted as the culturally blind, the culturally curious, and the culturally inclined. Black students on white campuses who fit the culturally blind category are either unaware of their existence or choose not to affiliate themselves with their multicultural center or the various black organizations on campus. These students most likely attended predominantly white high schools and have grown accustom to adapting to majority culture. They are involved on campus but just not within the multicultural center or black organizations. These individuals have presumably maintained an all white friend group throughout their college experience thus far. The culturally curious category consist of those who likely attended a predominantly white high school or a diverse high school. These individuals occasionally visit their campus multicultural center and may have requested to have their name added to the email-list of one or more black organizations but are semi-involved. They have a diverse friend group. The culturally inclined most likely attended a moderately/predominantly black high school. These individuals hoped to attend a Historically Black College or University to further their knowledge of African American culture, but now attend a predominantly white institution because it offered them more money in scholarships and financial aid. They make daily visits to the multicultural center and likely hold an executive board position in one or more of the black organizations on campus. They have made and maintained a few close black friends throughout their college experience thus far.

Through strong leadership and effective programming black organizations on white campuses can expect to gain membership from the culturally inclined, perhaps the culturally curious, and while it is unlikely, but through a conceited effort, the culturally blind.