A Review of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972.
The storied history of the activism efforts of Black collegiate students is masterfully told by Ibram H. Rogers in his seminal book, The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972. Interdisciplinary in focus, themes of Critical Race Theory, higher education policy, and American government are seamlessly interpolated into the text in a cohesive fashion. Rodgers traces Black student's quest for access, inclusion and equity in higher education from the 1850s to the 1970s and provides a comprehensive analysis on the impact of the Black Campus Movement (BCM) on pedagogical offerings, admissions policies and campus culture. This book review is focused on providing a historical overview of this journey, while dissecting the nuances of the narrative that speak towards larger historical and cultural issues including the implications of the BCM on contemporary educational settings.
Rogers adroitly differentiates the BCM from other threads of activism associated with Black culture. In a similar fashion to the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Theology Movement, and the Black Power Movement, the BCM should be viewed as a unique entity. Concomitant to the New Negro Campus Crusade and the Long Black Student movement, the BCM specifically refers to the efforts amongst Black student activists to reconstitute higher education between 1965-1972. Although the BCM is denned by a specific time period, it is optimally understood by analyzing the efforts to achieve equity that preceded it.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, access to higher education institutions for Black students was severely limited. Even the fortunate free Blacks who had escaped the vestiges of slavery were largely forbidden from enrolling at post-secondary institutions. Rogers theorized that the ideological dispute about how free Blacks should be educated served as the first great debate on the functionality of Black higher education.
On one side of the debate were White imperialists who sought to espouse American moral values across the globe. Financially backed by the aptly named American Colonization Society, they believed that the ideal way for free Blacks to utilize the education they received was to educate their "pagan" brethren in Africa. Rogers found that colonial colleges were established across Africa, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, to import moral values rooted in American patriarchy. The American Colonization Society paid for the establishment of these schools and also for the college educations of the free Blacks who emigrated out of the United States to run them. Proponents of this ideology saw it as a strategy to further expand the reach of American architypes and also as a way for the country to rid itself of free Black citizens.
On the other side of the debate were liberals who believed they were charged with ensuring educational access for free Blacks from a paternalistic sense of Christian duty. It was from this group, which included lawmakers, religious leaders, and military officials, that the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) were established. Initially providing preparatory programs, these HBCU's eventually began offering Bachelor's degrees, starting in 1865 with Pennsylvania's Lincoln University. By the time of emancipation, White missionaries from the North, stricken with a savior-complex, flooded into the South to capitalize on the newfound opportunity to educate the "downtrodden." Between the 1870s and 1880s over 200 HBCUs opened, although a significant amount closed due to financial constraints or racial revolts. Based on the potential financial gains and the rapid growth of HBCUs across the country, Rogers argues that the presence of these schools can be analyzed as a form of interest convergence. White capitalists needed a new mechanism for social control with the eradication of slavery and viewed institutions of higher education as the perfect vehicle.
The original pedagogical design of HBCUs was to train Blacks to embody, accept, and preach the dignity of labor. To accomplish this, schools developed a "train the trainer" model. In the first 20 graduating classes at Hampton University, 84% of students went on to become teachers. A "classical"--White--education was forced upon students focused on mathematics, science, Latin and Greek literature. Black cultural studies courses were absent from the curriculum. In the mid-nineteenth century, the ranks of both HBCUs and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) were completely filled with White faculty members and administrators.
Even as HBCUs began to incorporate Black administrative leadership in the early 1900s, the institutions were still controlled by White benefactors. Students at HBCUs across the country were coerced into singing Negro spirituals, performing folk dances and serving food during visits from the White politicians, philanthropists and trustees who provided funding to their schools. While nearly all HBCU students were forced to suffer through these atrocities, Black women at these campuses endured the additional burden of patriarchal restrictions. Each female student was supervised under the guise of a campus matron who opened any incoming mail a student might receive before allowing them to open it. Women were not allowed to leave campus without a chaperone and were subject to expulsion for smoking, drinking or entertaining the opposite sex in an unapproved manner. The few female professors employed could consider their positions essentially terminated if they made the decision to marry. Rogers notes that there was not a universal Black struggle across campuses. Women suffered specific and targeted hardships that their Black male counterparts did not have to endure and their progress in achieving social and academic freedoms on campuses came much more slowly. Systemic racism and overt misogyny were amongst the elements of university culture that catalyzed the first efforts for Black students to mobilize and demand equality.
At the turn of the twentieth century, student support services were not available at HBCUs. Frustrated by the lack of institutional support, students mobilized to create their own advocacy groups. The fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha was created at Cornell University in 1904 in response to the alarmingly low retention rate of Black male students at the institution. Concerned with the pervasiveness of a patriarchal campus culture, the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha was created at Howard University in 1908. Students banded together to form student service clubs that rallied against campus conditions and provided social outlets for isolated students. National associations such as the American Federation of Negro Students also began to rise. These groups not only provided academic assistance, but also vocally opposed a multitude of perceived injustices on campuses including dilapidated facilities, substandard food and an overly restrictive social atmosphere. Rogers demonstrates that the well-publicized student protests that characterized the BCM were not the beginning of Black campus activism. Contrary to the narrative presented by many historians, they represent the apex of student resistance efforts that had begun several decades prior.
The BCM began slowly as students at HBCUs and PWIs gained inspiration from both the civil rights movement and the Black power movement. Bloody Sunday in Selma, the murders of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and race riots in major cities across the nation sparked students to stage more aggressive protests with more substantive demands. Student protests shifted from the demand for basic student rights to cries for meaningful, tangible and long-lasting administrative advocacy. The longest strike in U.S. history at a college campus was inspired by the Black Student Union at San Francisco State University in 1968. The five month strike successfully pushed the administration into creating the first-ever Black Studies department in America. Students at Northwestern University in 1968 staged a takeover of the bursar office and gained not only access to a cultural house and a Black dormitory, but also forced the university to issue a public statement acknowledging institutional racism. Rogers notes that during the BCM, enrollment of Black students at PWIs experienced a growth rate of 50,000 students per year. More than 300 schools created special admissions programs for Black students and hundreds more began actively recruiting Black faculty and staff members. Rogers argues that the BCM was an unparalleled success, not simply for the gains that were achieved from it, but also because of its tactical strategy. The Movement specifically--and expertly--addressed the embedded elements of campus culture that undergirded the racial constitution of higher education.
Rogers mentions four key elements of higher education inequity that BCM members targeted as part of their reform efforts. Black students were subjected to a moralized contraption that uncompromisingly regulated student behavior and agency. Students were told how to eat, socialize, and behave in an explicit attempt to coerce submission to a neoliberalist order. Student subjugation was also buttressed by a standardization of exclusion that implicitly or explicitly excluded Blacks from all facets of campus life. This included faculty departments, administration offices and athletics where Black coaches and/or athletic directors were rarely seen. The third element was characterized by campus climates where Whiteness was normalized in a hegemonic fashion. Eurocentric artwork adorned college classrooms where White professors extoled the virtues of White curriculum while refusing to utilize any sort of culturally relevant teaching. Finally, the BCM specifically attacked ladder altruism--the belief that Blacks students' climb up the American ladder of success advanced Black America as a whole. Ladder altruism serves to systemically remove Black College students culturally, politically, and economically from the Black masses. The examination of the tactics used in the BCM is instructive of how to promote reform for Black college students today.
According to Rogers, the BCM took a calculated and targeted approach to combat racial and social injustices on college campuses. Although influenced by the civil rights movement and other Black social movements, the BCM stood alone and developed its own agenda. While the conditions that serve to catalyze the BCM are still rampant in colleges across the country, current efforts to address them are largely fragmented and incoherent. As a proxy for the assorted amount of resources students need, many universities establish a "multicultural student center" designed by White administration that often features a token Black faculty member who is designated to address all the concerns that Black students may have. Black students possess multiple identities, and the generic "Black students programs" that many universities implement are not useful in serving them. Rogers' research conveyed that a targeted and student-centered approach is vital towards implementing meaningful reform on college campuses.
It is critical to note that the achievements gained across the BCM did not occur through the efforts of sympathetic administrators or socially conscious White benefactors. The significant gains achieved across the duration of the movement occurred through the efforts of student-driven support programs. While varied in name, the aim of groups, ranging from Black student unions, Black power committees, Black student alliances, and Afro-American societies, were the same; collective organization to promote campus reform. Participating students were not only responsible for the formation of Black studies departments, but were also instrumental in their design. BCM students simultaneously requested that increased amounts of Black students be enrolled into their institutions while creating elaborate plans for admissions programs to ensure the legitimacy of the process. Contemporary initiatives designed to improve conditions on campuses for Black students rarely value the input of the very students they are designed to serve. The BCM is a poignant example of how student-driven initiatives are vital in ensuring a welcoming and nurturing environment on college campuses.
The 1954 Brown vs. Board decision did not provide meaningful reform for Black students in higher education settings. Neither did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Higher Education Act of 1965. Rogers' text leaves the reader with a deep understanding that students cannot rely on an oppressive system to quell oppression; liberation comes from within. The research presented by Rogers in the BCM provides a comprehensive blueprint on how the collective efforts of generations of Black students could challenge the moral contraption, normalized Whiteness, ladder altruism and standardized exclusion that remain indelible to higher education. Faculty members, administrators, and particularly students, would be wise to take heed to the lessons The Black College Movement offers.
Rogers, I. H., (2012). The Black campus movement: Black students and the racial reconstitution of higher education, 1965-1972. (Contemporary Black History Series). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Reviewed by Miguel Stepto Millett
Miguel Stepto Millett is an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University and a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Lewis University. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Author:||Millett, Miguel Stepto|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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