Student Work

Black Identity and School Success

Black Ain’t Lack, but Education Ain’t Black: A look at Black American undergraduate students and alumni of Bennington College

Thesis by Mardryka Adzick '18

ABSTRACTGiven the racialized achievement gap, amongst Black and white students, ever so prevalent within the United States, how do current and post-undergraduate Black  students manage to successfully bridge the gap between the dilemma of Black identity and school success— balancing both academic, social, and cultural success inside and outside of the classroom? How have they done so in their past educational experiences?  In what ways does the development of their Black identity inform the ways in which they navigate this cultural binary within schools in order to succeed and pursue higher education? How can, and do, relationships with Black (or, at the very least culturally informed) professors, artists, counselors, or mentors contribute to bridging this gap? What about participation with on-campus Black associations? What are the common types of ideological profiles of current and past Black students at a liberal arts college, like Bennington College? 

Through the development of my senior work, I examine the academic success amongst Black students who, I argue, are navigating an educational system which was never meant to serve them, and moreover, continues to embody individualistic, upper-middle class and white-supremacist ideals in its very structure, policies and everyday practices. These practices— such as zero-tolerance policies, racialized tracking, and standardized testing) create a culturally-tense environment that many Black students are forced to navigate on their own. An environment where many Black students feel they must choose between their Black culture and academic success— which is seen as "acting white" and is something I push back against in my thesis because it is a false equivalence that distracts from the very structure of schools, focusing blame on the individual and continues the cycle of academic failure amongst Black/African-Americans. However, I have found in the literature a lot of it focuses on the failures of Black students, trying to rationalize and theorize why these failures may be happening. Many researchers stop at the high school level, in which they conduct studies and identify various student ideological types which have emerged as coping strategies in response to this culturally tense environment of schooling, further how these student profiles relate to Black students' educational outcomes. Therefore in my research, I examined which student types/profiles (namely, the three student types that Prudence L. Carter's identifies in her work with Black/Latino high school students) present themselves at an elite liberal arts college like Bennington; moreover, examine just how these students (current and past) have come to successfully navigate this inherently white-supremacist system of education in order to pursue higher education as well as their Black identity throughout their educational experiences.