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Black HCC students say race issues aren't in the classroom

April 02, 2006|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

The problems they encounter aren't in the classroom or on campus, black students at Hagerstown Community College said.

The problems arise when class is over, after they leave campus and enter a culturally homogenous community, black students said.

"There's a lack of extracurricular activities," said Lamar Richburg, a black psychology major at HCC, referring to life off campus. "Blacks are not accepted, or feel like they aren't accepted."

According to a study released in March by the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), the number of black students obtaining associate degrees at HCC dropped between 1995 and 2004.

The decline came despite the school's enrollment growth among blacks and other minorities, according to state data.

More than half of the 331 black, college-bound students to graduate from a Washington County high school enrolled at HCC in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available from the MHEC.

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That same year, 12 black students graduated from HCC with associate degrees, according to the MHEC. That number rose to 23 in 2005, the same number as in 1995, HCC officials said.

Some black students, including Richburg, said the problem isn't with the school, but is related to apathy among black students and the absence of off-campus support.

"Honestly, it's a good school," said Ryan Henry, 19, a black student at HCC.

In order to socialize, Henry said, black students tend to travel to Baltimore or Washington, D.C.

"I was so done with this place," said Henry, who originally is from New Jersey. "If you want to go out, you're going to the city."

Marquis Waters, 18, said he came to HCC to be close to family.

"It's a nice, peaceful campus," said Waters, who moved to Hagerstown from Ocean City, Md.

"Whenever you need help, someone is always there for you," Waters said.

But Waters said he believed racial discrimination had made it hard for him to find a job locally. He said he travels back to Ocean City on weekends to work a part-time job.

"I couldn't find any work here," Waters said.

Mirroring decades of similar studies, a 2002 study published in the academic journal "African American Research Perspectives" suggests that discrimination and racism negatively affect the way students adjust to college life, particularly black students.

But the outside forces that black students and other racial minorities face should not be used as an excuse, some black students said.

"You don't have to be a statistic," said Josh Lowery, a 19-year-old black student from McConnellsburg, Pa.

Lowery said he came to HCC because his grades were too low for a four-year school.

Richburg said students have to be willing to make the transition and have to be willing to work hard.

"We're still persevering," he said. "We're not taking 'no' for an answer. We'll do whatever it takes."

Hagerstown native Andrea Waters, a 31-year-old black woman, said she attended HCC in 2004 to receive a certificate as a certified nursing assistant.

"Here, I never came across prejudice," Waters said. "Most of the teachers were excited that I was here."

"And plus, I have children," Waters said. "There are many things I want out of life ... I have to be the example."

Unlike two-year associate degrees, certificates generally are awarded for yearlong programs. Associate degrees usually are a transfer requirement for four-year schools.

Waters said she now is considering two-year and four-year programs.

According to HCC data, the number of black students receiving certificates went from zero to 22 between 1995 and 2005. Black students accounted for nearly half of the certificates awarded in 1995, HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

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