Posted on February 4, 2021

Driven (Away) by Hate?

Greta Anderson, Inside Higher Ed, February 3, 2021

Rises in state-level hate crimes can drive Black students to enroll at historically Black colleges and universities, according to a new study of hate crime and enrollment data. Experts say the findings illustrate the extensive work left to be done at predominantly white colleges to ensure students of color feel safe and welcomed.

The study linked increases in hate crimes reported at the state level to a 20 percent increase in Black students’ first-time enrollment at HBCUs within those states, according to the study, which analyzed documented hate crimes and enrollment data from the U.S. Department of Education from 1999 to 2017.

The study, a working paper published by the Stanford University Center for Education Policy Analysis last month, builds upon previous qualitative research about the impact that national social and political climate can have on Black students’ college decisions, and concluded that more incidences of hate crimes — whether they are racially motivated or not — can predict increased Black attendance at HBCUs.

Dominique Baker, a professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University and a co-author of the study, said the research cannot define a “causal relationship” between state hate crimes and Black student enrollment at HBCUs. But there were distinct increases in HBCU enrollment in states where hate crimes rose over the two-decade period that non-HBCUs did not experience, Baker said. The analysis included both HBCUs and predominantly white institutions.

She and co-author Tolani Britton, a professor of education policy at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, believe their study offers further evidence that when Black students are determining where to go to college, if there is racial turmoil in their community, they are selecting institutions “where they can thrive and be mentally and physically safe,” Baker said.

“HBCUs have worked really hard to make sure that Black students feel welcome and centered,” Baker said. “It is rare for non-HBCUs to have structured themselves to center students of color, from their mission to how they design their curriculum to how they hire their faculty.”

Robert Palmer, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., said that such academic research into how political climate and racial hostility can impact Black students’ enrollment decisions is relatively new. Additional analysis of what drives Black students toward HBCUs and away from predominantly white institutions, or PWIs, is especially crucial for higher education leaders as the college-eligible population becomes increasingly racially diverse, and as conversations about diversity and inclusion intensified after the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people last year, Palmer said.


However, Palmer said, Black students today have become hypercognizant of individual institutions’ treatment of students of color as a result of campus protest movements, social media and general increased media attention on racist incidents and hate crimes. Palmer considers the widely publicized 2015 protest movement led by Black students at the University of Missouri, Columbia, to be a starting point for students’ current level of awareness. The Missouri students vocally criticized administrators for responding inadequately to multiple racist incidents at the Columbia campus and for minimizing their safety concerns. {snip}


Palmer said if national discussions about race and calls for racial justice continue to intensify, he expects enrollment of Black students at HBCUs to continue to rise. {snip}