Blackademia

USF’s Solution to the Black Education Gap

The Marshall Riley Living Learning Community on a historical field trip. Photo from @baseusfca
on Instagram.

USF has been a frontrunner in extending education to Black people. Since the 1950s, Black students such as Bill Russell have left their legacies on the Hilltop, and Black activism has been a campus staple since the ‘60s, with the formation of the USF Black Student Union.

However, despite decades of progress towards equalizing access to education around the United States, it is critical to acknowledge that education remains a struggle for Black Americans. More needs to be done to bridge existing racial education gaps, and USF provides a roadmap for how to do it.

Less than 200 years ago, anti-literacy laws prohibited Black people from reading and writing. It wasn’t until 1867 that these laws were lifted, but even then, education wasn’t an equal right for Black Americans. For decades, schools were legally segregated between white and non-white students, with non-white students getting the short end of the stick. Although this history may seem distant, Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to integrate into an all-white public school in 1960, is only 69-years-old today, younger than both Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

The legacy of Black exclusion from academia is still alive, too. The U.S. public school system remains highly racially segregated. Majority Black school districts consistently receive less funding than their majority white counterparts. Black students in these underfunded areas do not always have equal access to academic support like college preparatory resources and tutoring.

In addition to this, Black students are taught and disciplined differently than their non-Black classmates due to pre-existing racial biases held by teachers and administrators. According to the American Psychological Association, Black students are more likely to be punished with suspension and expulsion, less likely to be in gifted programs, and met with lower expectations from their teachers.

These problems don’t disappear after high school. Black students face many barriers in the college environment, leading to nearly half of all Black students contemplating dropping out. In the 2010s, Black college enrollment declined by a whopping 22% nationwide.

Barriers such as high tuition costs, food access and housing complications hit Black students especially hard. Discrimination faced in colleges only adds to their stress. 

To help alleviate this, universities should strive towards creating a more welcoming environment for Black students. USF’s Black Achievement Sucess and Engagement (BASE) Initiative provides a good framework for how universities around the nation should support their Black students. 

BASE has many resources to help Black students flourish, such as scholarships, the Black Resource Center and the Marshall-Riley Living Learning Community, among others. It’s working. According to their website, USF’s graduation rate for Black-identified students is 71.4%, in comparison to the national average of just 40%. The program boasts a nearly 20% increase in Black students in only two years. Through BASE, USF has created a successful model to support Black students. Other universities should follow suit.

Education can be a welcoming space for Black people. Educational institutions just need to invest in cultivating it.

Editor’s Note: Foghorn Opinion Editor Chisom Okorafor is a member of BASE’s Black Scholars Scholarship Program. 

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