A new study at Stanford University has found a correlation between the increase in state-level hate crimes and enrollment of Black students at historically Black colleges and universities. According to the report, published last month by the Stanford University Center for Education Policy Analysis, the rise in hate crimes contributed to a 20 percent increase in Black students’ first-time enrollment at HBCUs within those states. 

The researchers said the study proves that Black students are determined to escape racial turmoil in their community and attend institutions “where they can thrive and be mentally and physically safe.” 

“HBCUs have worked really hard to make sure that Black students feel welcome and centered,” said Dominique Baker, co-author of the study, according to Inside Higher Ed. “It is rare for non-HBCUs to have structured themselves to center students of color, from their mission to how they design their curriculum to how they hire their faculty.”

Robert Palmer, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University, said the killing of George Floyd last year intensified conversations about diversity and inclusion, highlighting the need to conduct academic research on how political climate and racial hostility can impact Black students’ enrollment decisions. 

“Those in administration should be taking that effort seriously,” Palmer said. “This is a big chance to go beyond lip service and implement core programming and initiatives to promote campus inclusivity.”

The researchers, who analyzed data from 1999 to 2017, said they were unable to draw clear results about the impact of campus hate crimes on the enrollment of Black students at the colleges. Co-author Tolani Britton, a professor of education policy at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, said campus-level hate crimes are less likely to be widely talked about compared to statewide patterns. She also added that campus police may not be adequately trained to designate an incident as a hate crime.

The researchers also concluded that Black students today are more aware of an individual institution's treatment of students of color as a result of protests, social media discussions and increased media attention on the issue. As an example of young people's awareness, Palmer points to the 2015 protest at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where one person went on a hunger strike and Black football players threatened to boycott games as protestors criticized administrators for failing to address racist incidents on campus. 

Palmer previously co-authored a study that examined HBCU enrollment increases related to the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the correlation between former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and the increase in reported campus hate crimes that followed. According to the 2019 study, students' experience with racism during high school was a primary factor in their decision to attend an HBCU.

Palmer said students feel more comfortable attending HBCUs because the institutions don't avoid dialogue around racism. 

“They don’t divorce those issues from what happens in students’ lives because they know these issues impact them,” the researcher said. “It’s powerful to talk about how those issues impact students. It sends a signal that ‘We care about you. We’re aware of those struggles.’”

Studies show that institutions with a higher population of Black students have more on-campus resources that are culturally tailored for their demographics, Brookings reported. Such resources, like academic tools and student organizations such as sororities and fraternities, help Black students advance their education and social experience. 

According to Chemical & Engineering News, 292,000 students in the field were enrolled at HBCUs in 2018. The report states that 29 percent of Black students who were awarded chemistry bachelor’s degrees in 2018 came from HBCUs. Additionally, 25 percent of Black students who earned their doctorates in engineering did so from an HBCU. 

“HBCUs have not only a sense of community, but it’s the pride and tradition because of how HBCUs were formed,” Angela Peters, a chemist who is now provost at Albany State University, told C&EN. “At an HBCU you can feel how you are a part of a community of scholars.”