Young, Gifted, and Diverse: Black Students at Elite Colleges and Universities

Camille Z. Charles

Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences; Professor of Sociology & Africana Studies

In light of ongoing efforts to eliminate the consideration of race in college admissions, and increasing concerns about racial and economic inequality in American society, there is keen interest in understanding why Black students earn lower grades, take longer to graduate, and struggle to persist through college relative to whites and Asians, even when they come from seemingly similar socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds and are similarly prepared for college.

The overwhelming majority of this research portrays the Black college-student population in a monolithic, often deficit-oriented fashion, which has negative consequences for both the students and their collegiate institutions.

This course surveys competing explanations for racial disparities in college outcomes and considers potential consequences for diversity and equity in American higher education, social mobility, and intergroup relations. We consider these issues within the context of the diverse origins and experiences of students of African descent in elite US colleges and universities, something that much of the social science literature has minimized and/or ignored.

Dimensions of diversity to consider include 1) racial identification/classification 2) immigrant origins 3) skin tone 4) gender 5) social class status and 6) the experience of childhood segregation. Our primary concern is the extent to which intragroup diversity contributes to differences in various social, psychosocial, and academic outcomes, as well as how Black diversity impacts social relations among Blacks.