Black college students at predominantly white campuses feel internal cultural tension

Tim Goral's picture

When George Lee first came to the University of Oklahoma in 2009, he felt out of place. Lee, who is black, grew up in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood in Bryan, Texas, near College Station. But when he arrived at OU, he said, he felt pressure to change how he spoke and acted to integrate himself into the dominant culture.

He felt like he couldn't be the same person he'd been in his old neighborhood, he said. He felt like he was being asked to trade part of his “blackness” for the values and characteristics of the dominant white culture on campus.

“There had to be some type of a trade-off,” Lee said.

The idea of double consciousness — when a person's identity is divided between two cultures — isn't new. Sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois explored the idea in his 1903 book “The Souls of Black Folk.” But a new study suggests the conflict remains for many black college students today.

According to records from the National Center for Education Statistics, 64 percent of OU's undergraduates in the fall 2011 semester were white. Just 5 percent of undergraduates in 2011 were black.

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