Newsletter #1

Black Collegiate Experience Course

Edward Hill

In the fall of 2020, Professor Steven Cleveland approached me about interning in his class, HIST 385: Race and Modern American Nation, through CSUEB’s history department. It was a daunting prospect: like so many first-generation Black college students, I had no blueprint, no one in my family to guide me, and no idea of which people on campus might help me succeed. But I understood that it would help me complete my history minor requirements while earning my BA in Liberal Arts. At this stage of my academic journey, I also knew that this was too great an opportunity to pass up. The internship would allow me to collaborate with a trusted college professor and to make what we both saw as an essential contribution to the campus community. 

The class would cover the college experiences of Blacks through United States history. Taking a macro-to-micro approach to national and local issues within education, Prof. Cleveland and I created a timeline, with photos, scholarly articles, court cases, and various reports. We asked students (of which I was one) to view the Black Collegiate Experience through a de jour and de facto lens, to better understand the conditions that helped or hindered Blacks in their academic journeys. We aimed to highlight not just individual struggles but also individual triumphs, discussing those who fought singly and together, persevering against constant injustices, defeating those intent on denying African Americans access to higher education and, with it, social, economic, legal, and other forms of mobility. It was essential that students see how education fit into Black trajectories, as both a catalyst for change and the means by which BIPOC students, past and present, could achieve equity of opportunity. 

Course content changed once we reached the 1960s. Our campus, CSU East Bay, opened in 1959 as the “State College for Alameda County.” From this point forward, course meetings included visits (via Zoom) from Black CSUEB alumni who attended from 1960 through the present. Each Black alum guest speaker had either graduated in two years (having entered CSUEB as a transfer student) or in four years. Students prepared for these visits by developing engaging questions aimed at learning about visitors’ experiences, to discover what they felt helped them succeed, or worked against their success. In this way, the course began the process of collecting (finally) the oral histories of CSUEB’s Black alumni. Learning how these students overcame the odds to graduate from CSUEB was an exciting responsibility. Students were also tasked with identifying patterns that might help future Black college students achieve their own success (a central goal of the Black Excellence Project). Students learned that critical to visitors’ success were the relationships that Black students built with each other and with trusted Black community members. A pattern soon emerged: success depended on students’ access to trusted Black faculty, clubs run by and for Black students, spaces that specifically welcomed BIPOC students, and events designed to meet their particular needs. This pattern is likely to hold true as succeeding generations achieve Black collegiate success. 

One of the main goals of the Black Collegiate Experience course was to demystify the journey toward graduation for current and future Black students. By responsibly collecting and preserving the stories of these Black collegiates, we believe others will see themselves and find their own paths to collegiate success. Their paths will not always be linear, nor will they be the same for everyone. For many, earning a college degree will still seem an impossible goal. Yet sharing these success stories show what can be accomplished, despite great obstacles; we believe these stories will inspire others to believe that they can succeed as well.

Black Excellence Project 2023

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