Whited out: The influence of collegiate honors education on Black racial identity

Date of Completion

January 2003


Black Studies|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies|Education, Higher




Academic underachievement by Black students has been a topic of research interest for many years. Some researchers suggest that the phenomenon is due to genetic factors, and others believe that Black students have been culturally deprived. However, a recurring theme in recent literature suggests that underachievement by Black students may stem from deliberate and conscious decisions by and among Black students to avoid being accused of “acting White.” This qualitative, multiple case study examined the influence of collegiate honors education on Black students' racial identity and whether high potential Black students consciously downplayed their abilities to avoid “acting White.” Interviews were conducted with twelve Black students, of whom half were current honors students, and half were former honors program students. ^ Findings in this study suggest that some students did downplay their abilities, but their underachievement was not because they were concerned with being accused of “acting White,” but rather due to several other reasons, including personal choices and decisions, familial issues, and the social context of their university experiences. Some viewed the issue of “acting White” as a jest within a social commentary and did not take it seriously. Findings also suggest that “acting Black” was considered a negative social commentary intended to mean that participants were breaking rules, acting in negative ways, and achieving at low levels. Participants' views on these issues and the social context in which they lived indicated that their resilience enabled them to succeed and that “acting White” was not a deterrent to their talent development. ^