Do hate crimes lead more Black students to choose HBCUs?

A study done by professors at SMU and UC Berkeley shows an increase in enrollment in states where those crimes became more prevalent.

A new study done by researchers from Southern Methodist University and the University of California, Berkeley, appears to show a correlation between an increase in the number of African American first-time students enrolling in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and states that experience a rise in hate crimes.

Professors Dominique Baker at SMU and Tolani Britton at UC Berkeley performed the study “Hate Crimes and Black College Student Enrollment” that looked at enrollment figures from HBCU institutions from 1999-2017 and compared them with other data – such as hate crimes occurring on and off campuses during that period.

In the working paper published by Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, they concluded that increases in such crimes in individual states – racial, religious, gender-based or against those with disabilities –  caused a 20% spike in the number of African-American students opting to attend HBCUs.

“The number of reported hate crimes is almost assuredly an undercount of the actual number of incidents,” Baker said. “Even so, this study helps fill in the gap by exploring the association between Black students’ college enrollment and the number of reports of hate crimes at two levels: the state and the institution.”

They say hate crimes had reached their highest point in a decade in 2019, spurred by “rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump in referencing immigrants and persons of color.” In fact, of the nearly 15,000 law enforcement agencies participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program two years ago, 14% reported at least one hate crime occurring in their jurisdictions, or more than 7,000 in total in the U.S. The overwhelming majority were race-based.

Campuses are not immune. The Center for American Progress, in an article done in 2019 and citing data from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, noted a 40% rise in campus hate crimes to more than 1,000 incidents across the U.S. They say the hate extends to “white supremacist propoganda” that has circulated across campuses.

Researchers Baker and Britton say African-American students, for a number of reasons, are more likely to enroll at HBCUs than at non-HBCUs, especially when race-based hate crimes rise in individual states.

“It could be that students coming from more racially similar home communities seek to replicate these spaces in a college community due to prior experiences of an increased likelihood of student safety in predominantly Black spaces,” Britton said.

The study also noted: “It could also be that the reports of hate crimes on HBCU campuses are perpetrated by individuals who were not affiliated with the institutions, and therefore, students still find their campus to be a welcoming environment.”

The Center for American Progress and Baker and Britton note the scarcity of reporting data available and the lack of information on the specifics on those incidents.

They say colleges can do their part to help increase knowledge and dialogue by:

  • Adding training for those charged with reporting hate crimes
  • Ensuring that information related to these crimes is accurately reported
  • Offering additional support systems to Black students and their families, including the promotion of mental health services and other available health options. The Center for American Progress notes the disparity in African Americans who are helping deliver these services on campuses directly to students.
  • Fostering a welcoming campus, while providing open forums for dialogue on current topics and encouraging positive behaviors both in person on online. And denouncing behavior that isn’t.
  • Don’t just offer rhetoric or hollow mission statements on diversity and equity. Create programs and initiatives on campus that make a difference and lean on faculty who can support them.
  • Allowing students to more easily report hate crimes via an online, secured reporting system.

Baker also pitched that colleges and universities further research on hate crimes and enrollments for other groups of color. The goal of all support, they say, is to increase the “likelihood of college persistence and graduation.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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