After being approached two years ago by the administration, Damion Blake, assistant professor of political science and policy studies, introduced the course “The Black Man in America” to Elon University’s curriculum last year.
Police brutality toward African-Americans has been a point of contention in the United States for a long time. The recent shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Keith Lamont Scott, among others, have made headlines and were a major focal point in the 2016 presidential election.
Blake’s course description states the course will expose students to “some empirical and analytical studies of contemporary racial injustice and discrimination of the Black male in the U.S.” using numerous theories and academic research.
For Blake, this class is a necessity — especially for Elon, which he said is a “majority white campus.” He said the class also helps bring students of color together inside the classroom.
“They have been longing for a class like this on Elon’s campus that addresses racial injustice,” Blake said. “Particularly at Elon — a predominately white institution — it does bring some amount of diversity to the curriculum. [It] sheds light [on the] intellectual ‘elephant in the room’: racism.
“The black man is often portrayed in pathological ways: as a criminal, as a rapist, as a thug. This course seeks to understand from where that perception derives, what are the factors and also to debunk them and provide some solutions to the crisis that seems to be present with the American black man.”
The course originally started with 13 students in the first year it was taught and has now increased to 31. Blake said as more students became aware and interested in the class, the number of participants has sky-rocketed.
In terms of gender, the class was originally pretty evenly divided with seven female and six male students. With the increase in participants, gender remains similarly divided with an increase to 13 females and 18 males.
The majority of students that take the course are black, with Blake estimating that “about six are non-black students.” Blake said he hoped all races would take the course, but is not surprised that the bulk of students are black.
“They knew that a number of African- American students would take the course … to feel a sense of belonging,” Blake said. “Some students said they wanted to be more informed. The students who don’t fall under black or color wanted to get a broader perspective on what things are on the other side.
“I would’ve hoped that the course would attract all students … but it is an overwhelming presence of students of color in my class.”
One of those students, senior Cameron Jackson, said she took the course because it interested her. The added sense of camaraderie from her peers was a bonus. Aside from being in a class that is filled with a majority black population, Jackson said this was the first time she had a black professor at Elon.
In 2013 — Jackson’s freshman year — Elon enrolled 1474 students. Only 235 of them were non-white. With an average class size that year of 21.4 students, there was a low probability that classrooms would have more than one student of color in the classroom.
For Jackson, this class is different from the norm over her college career.
“It’s funny because that is the case — that I am the only black student or person of color in general or one of the few [in my classes],” Jackson said. “First semester on first day of class, it still surprises me even though I know what to expect. I wish it weren’t the case because when it comes to talking about certain classes, diversity is only a week, not the entire class.
“You feel like you have to speak on behalf of other people, but I don’t have to do this for this class.”
Since Jackson’s freshman year, the percentage of students of color has increased to 20 percent and the Class of 2020 has 314 non-white students. Freshman Xavier Bryant, another student in Blake’s class, still believes Elon can improve its outreach for a diverse application pool. Bryant attended Person High School in Roxboro, North Carolina, a school with 49 percent minority population.
Based on what he is used to, Bryant said Elon is extremely different.
“The school needs to be more attractive to black people,” Bryant said. “It’s really hard, but I know that they didn’t really reach out to people from my public high school. They only reached out to me and this other kid. We were like, ‘Hey, did you get emails from Elon?’ and I was like, ‘We getting a whole bunch of them.’ If they reach other students besides just two from every high school, I think it would be a lot better.”
Blake said he appreciates Elon’s initiative to fix the problem, with this class being one example. He said while the situation is being addressed, he will use this class as a mean to help Elon students learn about the many perils facing African-Americans — both inside and outside of a university setting.
“Elon certainly is making some attempts at having a more inclusive environment,” Blake said. “More diverse courses will be introduced. We have the Center for Race, Diversity and Ethnicity Education and other diverse safe spaces. Outside of the classroom and these diverse institutions, students are still not having this interaction or exchange. White students stick with themselves, black students stick with themselves, Hispanic students stick with themselves…
“What Elon can do is include different demographics on the campus in attracting a more diverse student body. If you address that, you will find more students of color in these classes.”