While the University’s race-conscious admission policies aim to diversify the racial makeup of the student body, an issue of gender diversity still exisits, especially among black students — with black women making up a much larger percentage of college students than black men.
According to University enrollment numbers, of the 1,875 black students at the University, 60 percent are female and 40 percent are male. This gender gap is more than double the 8 percent gender gap in the Hispanic student population. The black gender disparity stands out even more dramatically when compared to the white gender breakdown of 48 percent male to 52 percent female.
It is a trend LSA sophomore Lee Powell, who is black, has not only seen at the University, but also in his educational experiences for much of his life.
“Black men have always been the men in the academic circle the least,” he said.
The University’s gender gap is just a microcosm of the entire black population as a whole, he added.
Associate Dean of the School of Social Work Robert Taylor, who has published works on black social organization, said the black gender gap is a recent phenomenon researchers have yet to fully understand.
“I don’t know what the reason is. From what I’ve gathered, it is part of a national trend — both in schools like Michigan (and) historically black colleges. But I don’t know why this is going on,” Taylor said.
But from his own experiences, Powell said the gender gap in part results from the perception among some black men that higher education is not necessary.
“Black men sometimes feel they have to assume the father figure and so have to work after high school. Or just the fact that there is a less necessary need to have a higher education in their communities may also be reasons for the gap,” he said.
Despite the lack of scholarship on the subject, Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings said the higher education gap between black males and females has serious implications for the future of the black middle class.
At a time when studies have revealed a strong correlation between college education and membership in the middle class, Hutchinson said the gender gap implies the number of black men entering the middle class is on the decline.
Moreover, he added that the nationwide gap between college-educated black males and females is especially pertinent because black females are the least likely of any demographic to marry outside of their race. According to 2000 U.S. Census data, of the 4,097,000 black women who are married, 108,000 are married to a spouse outside of their race.
Therefore, if there are not enough college-educated black males, college-educated black females simply will not marry, Hutchinson said.
“Assuming black women continue this trend, there will be no replication of the black middle class. All these black women are getting BAs (and they have) no one to marry, because for the most part people want to marry others of the same class,” Hutchings said.
The shortage of two-parent families has serious economic effects on the middle class as well. Taylor said the middle class is traditionally made up of families with two wage earners. But if black women are more likely to be alone, it is harder for them to achieve middle-class status.
Hutchings said eventually, educated black women are either going to have to start marrying outside of their race, change their expectations or stop marrying altogether.
Yet some black students said the gender gap hasn’t been much of an issue in their lives.
School of Public Heath student Montsine Nshom, who is black, said she has dated outside of her race and would marry outside of her race.
“I’m dating the person, not the color of their skin. It’s never been an issue for me or for them,” Nshom said.
“It hasn’t really affected my relationships with (black women). … I have learned to deal with black women better because of it,” Powell said, “If anything, it’s positive.”
Still, maybe in part because of the gender disparity, LSA junior Lasheanma Lumpkin said that at the University, and in general, black women who see black men dating interracially are more likely than black men to have a negative response.
“I noticed (the small number of black males on campus) when I first came here. Because the males are so few in number, the girls will do whatever they can to keep them,” LSA junior Nakia Kyler said.