On a rural campus in upstate New York, about 100 black students and six black faculty live among nearly 7,000 white students. The closest town has less than one percent black population.
"If a college is located in an isolated atmosphere, it reinforces the isolation for both blacks and whites. This shows up in many ways," said Edward Jackson, an English professor at the State University of New York in Oswego. "When music groups are invited, the black students would prefer Smokey Robinson over Kiss. Since more black females attend college than black men, the black female has difficult choices. Then you have church availability, then there is the problem of food."
Jackson was one of a dozen educators who attended a conference of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education here yesterday that focused on the racism, academic difficulties, teacher bias and faculty development and promotion problems faced by the increasing number of blacks in white academia.
Of 1.2 million blacks now enrolled in post-secondary education, 250,000 attend historically black colleges. In 1970, according to one recent survey, almost half of the black students went to black colleges, but now the figure is only 17 percent. Still, black colleges account for nearly 40 percent of the black graduates annually.
When Jackson listed church and food as problems, the other black education professionals in the room at the Washington Hilton Hotel were laughing, but their laughter was full of painful recognition. While the delegates were debating solutions to the ever present problem of funding shortages, made more acute by the federal education cuts, and listening to speakers like HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, the newer problems of black faculty and student alientation on white campuses vied for attention.
Shelia Nickson, president of the American Association for Affirmative Action, used statistics from the State University System of New York to illustrate the isolation of both the black student and professor. "This is the largest white campus complex in the world, and in approximately 16 of its schools the faculty is 9,000, 759 of whom are minorities, 376 Asians and 262 blacks. That percentage reflects the national picture, also," said Nickson.
One of the purposes of this year's conference, which attracted leading scholars and civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King, is establishing new relationships with political groups, corporations, foundations, churches and other institutions. That prompted several appeals for self-help.
"Civil rights is now a low national priority," said Ron Simmons, an assistant dean at Cornell University. "We have administrations asking why do we need minority students. So we need to take the inititative and show the gains we've made."