The Quest to Racially Integrate: African Americans and Higher Education

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The relationship between people of color and institutions of higher learning has undergone several stages since the 1950’s. White colleges and universities upheld standards and morals that created reputations of very prestigious places of higher learning.  Colleges began their admissions process by simply accepting students who could financially afford to attend their institutions, sometimes regardless of their racial make-up. Although some schools had no policy against the admission of students of color, it was very rare they would attend college or that which was composed of mainly Caucasian students. Essentially banned from all-white institutions, African Americans had to resort to other methods and techniques of ensuring they would obtain an education. Historically Black Colleges and Universities became a venue for African Americans to better themselves and push for the same opportunities their White counterparts had. With the results of the Civil Rights Movement and landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, admissions policies began to change, opening up more opportunities for African Americans to attend all-white institutions.

Examining the relationship between African Americans and institutions of higher learning leads to the question: How have relations between African Americans and institutions of higher learning in America changed from the 1950’s to 2000? Was the change beneficial to African Americans? Although African Americans desired a school system that would provide an equal opportunity to equal education for all children regardless of their race, racial integration in institutions of higher learning did not prove beneficial to African Americans. This paper will focus on the transition African Americans underwent from attending mainly Historically Black Colleges and Universities to predominantly white institutions through either their own means or through access programs like QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation. In addition, it will also prove how such a shift is not beneficial to African American students.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the 1950’s

Because very few were able to attend all-white institutions in the 1950’s, African Americans went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (“HBCU’s”) were originally created in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth with hopes of training African Americans to become teachers (Coleman, par. 3). Since then, the institutions have evolved into a chain of schools that are geared towards providing quality education for African American students who might not otherwise attend college due to socio-economic disadvantages, academic disadvantages, and effects of segregation policy in the United States. In the 1950’s this meant students attended HBCU’s in hopes of achieving their version of the American Dream by defeating well enforced stereotypes. Well known figures that attended and graduated from HBCU’s include Civil Rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr. and Alice Walker. Virtually no African Americans have been able to attend all white institutions in the 1950’s and the few that did were able to do so because they had the financial means – something very few African Americans were able to do.

First Day of Desegregation at Fort Myer Elementary School

With the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the pattern of African American attendance in college institutions began to drastically change. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that separate public schools for African American children were unconstitutional because the facilities for white and black students were substantially unequal. Although the case only applied to American public schools, colleges and universities around the nation felt the pressure to racially integrate through such cases and other efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. For instance, liberal arts institution Trinity College began its efforts to accept more African American students after student activists began requesting the school provide more opportunities for them to attend. They introduced in 1967 their Freshmen-Sophomore Honors Scholar Program to help pool more qualified students of color from disadvantaged backgrounds adjust to the academic pace (Knapp, 340).

The Issue of Scholarship

Although Brown v Board of Education created more opportunities for African Americans to have more of an equal standing with Caucasian students in education, they were at a disadvantaged level that presented obstacles for students who wished to attend college with their white counterparts. African Americans faced many restrictions through employment and housing discrimination practices that limited the level of income one could acquire as well as which neighborhood he or she could reside in. A lot of this discrimination arose even more due to the fact that African Americans began migrating to the north and other parts of the nation from the south after World War II.  Their shift in location was also accompanied with a shift of upward mobility. African Americans began their attempt to break out of their current place in society where they work as maids or factory workers.

Then and even in the early 2000’s, African Americans who want to attend an institution of higher learning find it difficult to do so because of financial disabilities. It has been decades since the end of Jim Crow Segregation in both the economical and educational aspects of American society and yet African Americans suffer because of its affects. Hard work and determination were now not enough to allow students of color to attend high ranked institutions that would give them the tools to achieve their American Dream. Realizing this, predominantly white colleges and institutions began partnering with access programs to ensure that African Americans and other students of color would be able to attend their and other institutions. The prominent access program s that allowed students of color to go to top predominantly white colleges in the country began showing up starting the 1980’s. Such programs include that like The Posse Foundation , A Better Chance and QuestBridge.

Is Racial Integration in Higher Education Beneficial?

Although African Americans succeeded in gaining a place in predominantly white institutions, racial integrating in higher learning does not serve as a psychological benefit. In his piece The Color of Success, Walter R. Allen compared African American students in predominantly white institutions with those in HBCU’s and found that psychological differences. Like their white counterparts, African American students have similar or higher aspirations, but unfortunately they are unable to achieve them as much as their white classmates do; generally African American students perform lower than white students (Allen, 29). In addition to performing lower than their white counterparts, African American students in predominantly white institutions have to deal with explicit and implicit displays of racism and bigotry. For instance, African American students at Trinity College held a “Zero Tolerance” rally in response to the increased racial attacks on minorities on the campus (Trinity College). Those students, and many others on campuses around the nation, have to deal with being students at prestigious colleges, maintaining and/or raising their grade point averages, developing their own self brands and combating racism. On the other hand, African American students who attend HBCU’s tend to have more “positive self-images, strong racial pride, and high aspirations” (Allen, 29). They are also in an environment in which they can receive an excellent education, perform well academically, and develop their own self brands without the hassle of combating daily racism on the same scale as their African American counterparts in predominantly white colleges and universities.


Allen, Walter R. “The Color of Success: African-American College Student Outcomes at Predominantly White and Historically Black Public Colleges and Universities.”Symposium: Minority Participation in Higher Education (1992). Harvard Educational Review. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Web. 1 May 2012. <>.

Coleman, David C. “HBCU History – The History of Historically Black Colleges.” HBCU CONNECT., 2011. Web. 03 May 2012 <>.

Knapp, Peter J., and Anne H. Knapp. Trinity College in the Twentieth Century: A History. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, 2000. Print.

Trinity College. “Students, Faculty Rally Around the Cause of Justice, Equality and Tolerance.” Trinity College, 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 03 May 2012. <,-Faculty-Rally-Around-the-Cause-of-Justice,-Equality-and-Tolerance.aspx>.

UPDATED: The Quest to Racially Integrate: How have efforts to racially integrate changed over time? What methods were used in the past and being used today?

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Many well known colleges and universities were established as early as the 17th Century making an effort to establish themselves as very prestigious institutions. They upheld high standards and morals in their students to ensure that their reputations would remain untainted. Colleges began their admissions process by simply accepting students who could financially afford to attend their institutions, sometimes regardless of their racial make-up. It was very rare that they would accept students of color; with the help of psychological advances like phrenology it was thought that students of color were intellectually inferior. With the threat of students of color attending their institution, many institutions enacted regulations that forbade the acceptance of any student of color. With historic events like the Civil Rights Movement, they turned to nationally recognized college access programs like A Better Chance to increase its population of students of color.

This paper will focus on three liberal arts schools that have changed the way they pool students into attending their institutions; Wesleyan University, Amherst College, and Trinity College. Within the last twenty years, these institutions have employed access programs in their admissions process to admit students of a demographic much different from what they usually do. Currently, Wesleyan University, Amherst College, and Trinity College, are partners with A Better Chance, QuestBridge, and the Posse Foundation respectively. By focusing on these institutions, a clearer view of how colleges and universities attempt to diversify their classes and campuses without looking at every single institution in America.

Wesleyan University- Pre-Civil Rights

Founded in 1831, Wesleyan University began its historic start as a Methodist Institution enrolling 48 students of various ages (Wesleyan University, par. 1). The college’s first president Willbur Fisk was a Methodist educator that is well known for his statement on the purpose of education. According to the educator, education serves the purpose of the good of the student and of the world (Wesleyan University, par. 3). Unfortunately not all students of Wesleyan University felt that this positive purpose included the education of African American students. According to the school’s student run newspaper The Wesleyan Argus, the college’s first African American student Charles B. Ray attended the institution for seven weeks in the fall of 1832 after harsh racist acts he dealt with from white (mostly southern) students (Argus, par. 1). These students pleaded with Fisk to expel Ray; some even threatened to withdraw their attendance from the school. After Ray’s withdrawal from the school, the board of trustees at the time passed a resolution that stated “None but white male persons shall be admitted as students at this institution” (Argus, par. 1).

After the regulation was repealed in 1835, students of color rarely attended the university and worse, the school did not embrace racial integration. A little more than two decades later, students like Thomas F. Barnswell were able to attend the institution, with few of them graduating (Potts, 55).

So how did Wesleyan University change from an institution that banned the attendance of students of color, to one that is partners with a bridge program whose goal is to give academically able students of color a chance to attend school at well known institutions?

Future Planning: I plan to speak about Amherst and Trinity College’s race relations before the Civil Rights Era. After explaining efforts to segregate/integrate by faculty/trustees/students, I will examine how these institutions began working with access programs like A Better Chance and QuestBridge . I will then analyze the relationship between access programs

Works Cited

  1. David Potts, Wesleyan University, 1831-1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England (Wesleyan University Press, 1992).
  2. Liz Wojnar, “A ‘Stronghold of Southern Depostism’: First African American Student Left Because of Discrimination,” The Wesleyan Argus (November 6, 2009),
  3. Wesleyan University, “WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: A BRIEF HISTORY” (Wesleyan University, 2012),

How Have Efforts to Racially Integrate Changed Over Time at Trinity College?

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Research Question: Trinity College’s Education and the Need to Racially Integrate: How have efforts to racially integrate changed over time? What methods were used in the past and being used today?Are the Posse Foundation and Questbridge avenues for racial integration?

Relevance: My question has relevance because it seeks to track the change in racial composition of Trinity College’s campus starting as early as mid 1900’s. I am interested in seeing how Trinity College went about bring diversity on its campus and classrooms, but more importantly I want to focus on the rumor within the Trinity College Community that states that the Posse and Questbridge scholarships are methods of bringing more minority students to Trinity who otherwise would not attend. Being that the majority of people accepted into Trinity College through those programs are minorities , I find it interesting to research (1) if this thought is actually accurate as well as (2) the efforts Trinity College has taken to integrate its student body population.

Research Strategy:

1)      I first went to the Watkinson Library in search of any historical accounts of the first Black student at Trinity College as well as the implementation of the Posse and Questbridge Scholarships. After speaking to Peter Knapp, I was informed that Trinity did not keep an account of their Black students if there were any. He gave me a book of his that gave me information about public knowledge of the number of Black students at Trinity College and the Civil Rights Movement. From his book, which was co-written by Anne Knapp, I learned that Trinity only kept accounts of students of color on campus after World War II. In addition, there was no information about the start of the Posse Scholarship.

I intend of going back to the Watkinson Library to look through old year books for more information on the admission of Black students into the college.

2)      I will contact the Posse Foundation as well as Questbridge’s Directors about the use of their scholarship programs a Trinity College. I think it will be interesting to see their take on the implementation of their programs at Trinity College and the fact that most of their scholars are minorities in a school that is lacking in diversity.,

3)      In addition to those methods, I have contacted Dorthy Thompson to see if she could give me any information on the types of funds that are collected for the scholarships of these students. I want to see if there are any economic connections with how Trinity College admits Black students.

4)      Based off of the advice I received from a librarian at the Watkinson Library, I will search through the Tripod archive in search for articles about racial integration on campus as well as the Posse and Questbridge scholarships.

Cernera, Karisa. “The Trinity Tripod.” Class of 2014 Boasts Unprecedented Diversity[Hartford] 14 Sept. 2010. The Trinity Tripod. The Trinity Tripod. Web. 04 Apr. 2012. <>.

Hu, Winnie. “An Inward Look at Racial Tension at Trinity College.” New York Times, 18 Dec. 2006. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. <>.

Knapp, Peter J., and Anne H. Knapp. Trinity College in the Twentieth Century: A History. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, 2000. Print.

Avoiding Plagiarism

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Example 1: Plagiarize the original text by copying portions of it word-for-word.

There will always be instability in these rankings, some of which will reflect “real” performance changes. But it is difficult to trust any performance rating if the odds of getting the same rating next year are no better than a coin toss.

Example 2: Plagiarize the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, without copying it word-for-word.

Instability in these rankings will always exist, some of which demonstrate “real” performance changes. It’s difficult to trust any performance rating if the chances of getting the same rating next year are the same as a coin toss.

Example 3: Plagiarize the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, and include a citation. Even though you cited it, paraphrasing too closely is still plagiarism.

Economist at New York University, Sean Corcoran studied the teacher evaluation systems in New York City and Houston.He concluded that the average margin of error of a NYC teacher was plus or minus 28 points (Ravitch 270).

Example 4: Properly paraphrase from the original text by restating the author’s ideas in different words and phrases, and include a citation to the original source.

As asserted by Diana Ravitch, it is hard to differentiate between a the rankings of public school teachers because there is such a large margin of error in the calculations (Ravitch 270). This margin of error makes it difficult to assess a teachers real performance.

Example 5: Properly paraphrase from the original text by restating the author’s ideas in different words and phrases, add a direct quote, and include a citation to the original source.

Assessing public school teachers is hard to do with today’s assessment tests. As Diana Ravitch writes “it is difficult to trust any performance rating if the odds of getting the same rating next year are no better than a coin toss” (Ravitch 270).

Where is the Backbone in CT’s Housing and Education Debate?

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Miguel Cardona, Susan Marks, Gary Highsmith, and Allan Taylor (Respectively from left to right) Taken by Professor Jack Dougherty

HARTFORD – On February 16, 2012, The Lyceum hosted a public forum entitled Connecticut’s Achievement Gap: How Housing Can Help Close It where many individuals from both the housing and education field came together to discuss ideas and methods of bridging the achievement gap in Connecticut public schools. As the title suggests, education officials gathered as panelists to openly discuss and answer questions on Connecticut’s achievement gap in public schools, the connection between that and housing, and ways to bridge the gap. Oddly enough, despite the even attendance of housing representatives and education officials, only education officials were on the panel. Panelists Miguel Cardona (Principal and Achievement Gap Task Force Member), Susan Marks (Superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools), Gary Highsmith (Principal and Achievement Gap Task Force Member), and Allan Taylor (Chair of the CT State Board of Education) publicly discussed what they see as the problem in public schools and how housing is an integral part of the solution.

What is the achievement gap in Connecticut public schools?
In order to discuss any steps to helping student achievement gaps in Connecticut, the panelists had to acknowledge what the problem is in public schools that are creating the gap. Public schools are plagued by startling differences in student academic performance which varies based on where a child lives and attends school. Children who attend public schools in wealthier neighborhoods have access to better resources than children from poorer neighborhoods. As a result children without proper educational resources like access to computers and updated textbooks end up performing lower on exams and tend to drop out along the way not attending college in comparison to their peers in neighboring cities.
Looking at the school and state district lines, one can plainly see that low student performance is closely connected with where a child lives. As a result, a landmark case came about in 1989–the landmarkcase of  Sheff v. O’Neill case. Sheff plaintiffs were disappointed that children living in low income neighborhoods, specifically Hartford, were performing at a much lower rate than children in neighboring suburbs like Avon. Alongside clear testing patterns based on geography, it was noted that these regions were segregated; most of the population in low performing cities were made up of racial minorities while better performing suburban schools were almost entirely white.

The Ties That Bind Housing and Education
Having seen the effects of the Sheff case and the flight of wealthier individuals from low income neighborhoods, education and housing officials gathered at The Lyceum to attempt to utilize their inventive skills to create the solution to the problems with education. There was almost desperation in the room to enhance the school system so that all students can have access to a better education. But in that desperation came a false belief that one single solution could solve the crisis in Connecticut public schools.

Chair of the CT State Board of Education Allan Taylor suggested in the meeting that schools use transportation funds for students to the housing system so they could enhance living situations for families. Others played around with the idea of making schools within a district unified in curriculum. After hearing several suggestions, Principal Gary Highsmith made two statements that resonated with the room:  one – that there is no real one solution to the problem and two – that the panelists and other education reformers were “substituting the wishbone for the backbone” in terms of finding solutions that would make a difference and last in the public school system. He was highlighting the fact that the panelists were expressing hopes and wants that may end up staying in the room instead of influencing legislature in some form. Highsmith encouraged bold and courageous conversations that inspire action.

What is there to take away after the forum?
Public forums are essential in voicing one’s opinion about the topic at hand and to hear thoughts and suggestions on how to solve problems. Unfortunately, this forum did not seem to provide any sense of direction. When asking Allan Taylor among others what the outcome of the discussion would be, there was heaviness to their response. Taylor openly acknowledged that solutions simply do not result from forums of this nature. It seems that the fate of Connecticut’s public school children is in the hands of “adult politics.” Instead of focusing on the needs of thousands of children around the state, officials seem to be caught up in numbers and other activities that should not come before the needs of struggling children.
Where do we go from here?

The state of which Connecticut schools are in need significant improvement, a reflection of the larger education issues across the nation. Public forums like that of today at the Lyceum demonstrates the urgency to address such inequalities like segregation and lack of educational resources. Many voiced their opinions and questions in hopes of bettering the schooling situation for children, but hoping is not action. If each representative of different organizations brought back some of what they heard from today’s discussion, something may come about. Bold discussions and forums are needed  in order to make progress; it is from these discussions that reform strategies are created and have the possibility to be implemented in Connecticut schools.

Meet the Writers

Diana Ryan and Shanese Caton. Taken by Prof. Jack Dougherty

Diana Ryan is a sophomore Human Rights major at Trinity College originally from the Bronx, New York. Shanese Caton is a sophomore Educational Studies and Political Science major at Trinity College originally from Brooklyn, New York.  Both ladies are students in Professor Jack Dougherty’s Education Reform: Past and Present course.