A couple weeks ago, a friend showed me a video made by Sy Stokes, an undergraduate student at UCLA. In his video, Stokes voices his concerns about the scarcity of black male undergraduates at UCLA.  The three-minute long video rifles through some jaw-dropping enrollment statistics, the most shocking of them being that UCLA has more NCAA championships than black male freshman; black male freshmen compose only 3.3% of the undergraduate student body.  After watching the video, I wondered how Princeton’s enrollment statistics for black male undergraduates would compare.  So after dinner one night, I sat down with a couple friends and counted the number of black male undergraduates at Princeton (yes, I actually did this).  The results were shocking. We counted a total of 169 students: 48 freshman, 42 sophomores, 44 juniors, and 35 seniors.  169 out of a 5,222 student body, a measly 3.2%.

There were only two positive takeaways from these statistics:

  • There were more non-athletes than athletes (117:52).

  • The number of black male freshmen is 37% higher than the number of black male seniors, which shows that the university is making progress.

But really, were these numbers truly surprising? History says no.

Black men have been grossly underrepresented at institutions of higher education for decades. There was even a point when there were more black males in prison than there were in college. One of the primary causes of the underrepresentation of black men in higher education is our abysmal high school graduation rate. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, the high school graduation rate of black males sits at 47%, compared to 78% of their white male peers. This achievement gap only widens when black men attend college. In fact, even within the racial group, black women are earning 67.8% of the degrees earned by black undergraduate students. That means black men account for only 32.2% of degrees earned.

Here at Princeton, the same issues exist. I believe one of the reasons there are so few black male undergraduates at Princeton is the lack of a prominent community for black men on campus. After having been here for three months, I’d have say that the community is severely inadequate. There are many students here who care about making a community for black men (e.g. the Black Men’s Awareness Group), but even they admit that having so few students to work with makes it exceedingly difficult to create such a community.

I think one of the first steps to creating this community would be uniting athletes and non-athletes. There’s a very obvious division between black males on campus. You seldom see athletes and non-athletes interacting with each other. This weakens the black men’s community because it makes our small group even smaller than it should be.

Another crucial step toward forming this community would be providing more outlets for underclassmen to meet upperclassmen. I have been fortunate to meet several upperclassmen through the different activities I participate in on campus. Many of my peers, however, have not had such opportunities. The Fields Center runs a mentorship program for black students called LAMP. LAMP matches freshmen with upperclassmen mentors based on similar academic and social interests. Mentor and mentee pairs are usually of the same race and gender.  At the beginning of my freshman year, I signed up for LAMP hoping to meet some more upperclassmen. However, to my surprise, only six of the 34 mentors were males. This makes it extremely difficult for black male underclassmen to seek mentorship through LAMP.

The lack of participation (in programs like LAMP) by black male undergraduates is another issue that needs to be addressed.  Many upperclassmen have told me that few black men attend Black Men’s Awareness Group (BMAG) and Black Student Union (BSU) meetings.  Comparatively, Princeton’s Association of Black Women (PABW) has a much stronger presence on campus than BMAG does. I noticed this at a BMAG meeting two weeks ago, where there were only about ten members in attendance. Just last week, PABW had a meeting on interracial dating and about 20 girls came by. Frankly, it is going to take more than ten students to build a community here.

One final step to building this community is by confronting the university about these issues. The most effective way to address this is through dialogue (e.g. BMAG’s upcoming panel on the Role of Black Men in Higher Education). It is conversations like this that university officials should be having.  They must understand why fostering a strong community on campus for black men is important.   There’s no reason why Harvard should have a stronger community of black men than Princeton does. For years Harvard’s Black Men’s Forum has created an extensive network for black men on its campus. The group holds many events throughout the year for black male undergraduates, many of which are frequented by prominent figures in the black community. Just last month, my friends at Harvard got the opportunity to meet US Senator Mo Cowan, and Hollywood actress Tatiana Ali. There is no reason why Princeton cannot provide the same opportunities for its black male undergraduates. Implementing such opportunities would help Princeton stand out from its peer institutions.

My eagerness to create a strong black men community here at Princeton does not at all mean I want to confine myself to one group. All I want to do is meet more students who look like me, and can relate to the struggles of being a black male at an Ivy League institution. Had I known earlier that such a community did not exist here, I probably would not have committed to Princeton.  And I’m sure there are hundreds of prospective students who are already taking Princeton off their lists because they want a better community for black men, and many who will follow suit when they come to Preview and realize that there are very few black male undergraduates here.

Even though I haven’t quite found the community I had hoped for, I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Princeton so far. I’m confident that I made the right decision to come here, as I can now use my four years to build the black men’s community. That is what I’m here to do.

-Achille Tenkiang