African American Students Describe Their Experiences

One of Berea’s great strengths is our commitment to interracial education. We believe it is one reason Berea graduates rate the institution so highly (compared to national averages) on educational outcomes related to interacting with and understanding people who are “different from one’s self.” We recognize this commitment creates a rich, challenging, and rewarding learning environment for students, faculty, and staff.

The overall enrollment of African American students has reached 17% on campus and the retention and graduation rates are the same as other domestic students. We want to understand and improve upon the collegiate experiences of all our students. With this goal in mind, a study conducted in Spring 2003 was aimed at understanding what attracts African American students to campus and enables them to persist to graduation in a predominantly “white” institution. It also addressed the challenges African American students face at Berea College.


We found that African American (AA) students, just as all other students, most commonly cited financial assistance as their primary reason for attending Berea. However, there was a large gap between the rated importance and satisfaction of this key factor. Other reasons AA students reported for choosing to attend Berea included the Carter Woodson Weekend, a low student-to-faculty ratio, our strong academic reputation, the Labor Program, the Black Music Ensemble, and the chance to participate in athletics.

The greatest reported strengths included development opportunities within the Labor Program and the general learning environment in classrooms. Along with financial assistance, other challenge areas included unmet needs related to career and educational planning, faculty concern and encouragement, and life skills development (leadership, conflict resolution, managing finances, etc.).

Study participants most often cited the following when asked what they wanted to convey to faculty:

  • Be more caring, patient, and open-minded
  • Reach out to quiet or shy students
  • Listen to and learn more about how to communicate with African American students
  • Be willing to help students to develop; show interest in students outside of class; and refrain from talking down to students

To know more about the survey results, please read our study (PDF file). For a printable version, go to the Web site and select pages 1 and 2.

Response from the Provost’s Committee

Berea has made progress in upholding our commitment to interracial education. However, this study also revealed challenges and issues that need our attention. This study’s results are being communicated across campus to inform conversations and stimulate greater understanding and inclusion. Improving our campus community is a shared venture. No one group (faculty, students, or staff) can resolve our challenges without the benefit of the others’ perspectives and support.

Some efforts have already been undertaken to reduce financial stress for all students. For example, we’ve created new financial aid packaging that more closely aligns term bills with the students’ and their families’ ability to pay. We’ve also eliminated Short Term charges for room, board and fees, and reduced summer housing costs. In response to students’ concerns regarding career counseling, the freshman orientation will now include special assessments, the results of which will be used by students’ academic advisors, and labor supervisors to identify career interests earlier in a student’s college career.

The Black Cultural Center is now linked directly with the Student Life Team in order to enhance the African American student experience across the scope of the students’ extracurricular experience (e.g., in life skills and leadership development). Also, the Strategic Planning Committee is actively considering ways to further enhance Berea’s commitment to interracial education. Currently, an action plan focusing on particular pedagogical and co-curricular initiatives is being developed for community review.


We will be sending more Study Briefs over the next few weeks. Please send your ideas, comments, or questions to Judith Weckman ( ). Also, feel free to contact any of the Provost’s Committee members listed below.

Provost Committee Members
Joe Bagnoli, Associate Provost
Stephanie Browner, Dean of the Faculty
Jackie Burnside, Associate Dean of the Faculty
Delphia Canterbury, Staff Support
Jamie Ealy, Director of Admissions
Don Hudson, Associate Provost for Advising and Academic Success
Dave Porter, Provost
Judith Weckman, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
Gail Wolford, Vice President for Labor and Student Life