Educational Segregation: a Black and White Issue?

Would it be a good idea to have had Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) in the UK? This was one of the many questions put to me in a Q and A session with final year students at Tuskegee University this week.

HBCUs have a long history in the United States. They were set up in the 1830’s to meet the educational needs of Black Americans. The first students had little or no previous education and the focus was on the development of practical skills. Across the USA there are now 102 HBCU’s in 19 states with almost 300,000 students on a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. It  is reported that there has been an increase in diversity in HBU’s from 15% of non-Black students in 1979 to 22% in 2015 (see ).

The benefits of HBCUs

So what are the benefits of HBCUs?

I checked this out with a small group of students here at Tuskegee University. They self-defined as Catholic, Christian and Muslim. All agreed that the experience of being in a HBCU had developed their ‘Black identity’ and heightened their sense of pride. One said it had been ‘an eye opener’ to learn about Black history. They acknowledged the diversity of ‘Black’ and some of the challenges of racism which, they felt, came from ignorance and fear. If you want to get to understand people, they said, you need to take time to get to know them.

Some questions…

Is it not more beneficial to promote educational integration? Surely having a diverse student body, studying together, inevitably leads to enhanced respect and mutual understanding?

There is evidence that even within institutions with a lot of diversity, prejudice exists. This was described by a Fulbright scholar just this week on an excellent Radio 4 progamme entitled ‘Being Muslim in America’ (listen at

If we are to go down the voluntary segregation road, which groups should be entitled to a college of their own? Women? Catholics? Muslims? Humanists? There are already many schools that are segregated on the basis of sex and faith. Which should we be supportive of?  and Why?Please do share your views.


[Photo of the Adams Chapel School (1898) at Old Alabama Town Museum, Montgomery]

Impartial education?

The students I talked with here at Tuskegee said they aspired to love, peace and harmony in our global community. To that end, a high quality education is crucial with mutual respect between teacher and student and impartial disciplinary expertise that develops critical thinking.

Our first year students at the University of Surrey have just completed an innovative 6 week online course (pre-MOOC) on the theme of ‘Applying Ethics to Health and Social Care’. Their discussion feedback highlights the value of video extracts that help them understand a wide range of patient and professional perspectives on good care. They referred to the usefulness of ethical principles, virtues and human rights. The students had also engaged with a range of future oriented ethical challenges, including robots in care.

One student’s question amused and reminded of the importance of real people engaging in authentic educational activities together. She requested more face-to face interaction and asked: ‘How do we know that she (online teacher) is not a highly developed professorbot?’

In the next blog post I will be reflecting on my final week in Alabama and focusing on ‘football, Church and Bioethics’. I will also be visiting an elder care service and will be able to tell you about that.