We Built this Joint for Free: Counter-stories of Black American Contributions to Higher Education

Chaunte L White, Miranda Wilson
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 4  •  2019  •  pp. 123-142

Black contributions to higher education are frequently marginalized by some of the field’s most commonly cited historians. The purpose of this conceptual paper is threefold: to demarginalize the role of Black Americans within the higher education history narrative; to demonstrate the need to reconsider the course reading selections used to facilitate learning in this area; and, to emphasize the importance of higher education history as vehicle for understanding current issues across the postsecondary landscape.

Sanitized historical accounts often shape Higher Education and Student Affairs students’ learning of the history of American higher education. This is important due to the role historical knowledge plays in understanding current issues across the postsecondary landscape.

This conceptual paper juxtaposes commonly used higher education history texts against works that center Black higher education history. Elements of Critical Race Theory (CRT) frame this paper and serve as an analytic tool to disrupt master narratives from seminal history of higher education sources.

This paper contributes to literature on the history of higher education and offers considerations for the implications of course reading selections.

We found that countering the master narratives shows how our contemporary experience has been shaped by colonial processes and how the historical role of Black Americans in higher education is often minimized.

Citing how higher education and student affairs instructors’ choices around scholarship have implications for classroom learning and for the future of research and practice, this work recommends diversifying history of higher education course reading selections to help students gain better understanding of the historical impact of white supremacy, systemic oppression, and racism on postsecondary education.

Further research is needed to understand the impact of course reading selections on HESA student learning and empirically identify frequencies of text usage in history of higher education classrooms

higher education, history, Black, African American
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