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Supporting Black Students on a Predominantly White Campus

Kristen Walsh 

Workshop urges faculty and staff to reflect, learn and act

DO learn to recognize and call out instances of racial injustice on campus.

DON’T ask Black students to speak on behalf of the entire Black community.

Practical direction like this marked the workshop “How to Support Black Students on a Predominantly White Campus,” offered during the second annual Community Learning Conference for faculty and staff. Student Affairs colleagues Alexa Erb and Ben Longstreth hosted the session.

“When we train ourselves to recognize racial injustice, we are better positioned to center the needs and voices of our Black students in an action-oriented way,” explained Erb, a program coordinator for student involvement. “The purpose of this workshop is to develop our ability to recognize anti-Blackness in the spaces we occupy and then provide tools for action that will lead to lasting change on Bentley’s campus.”

Longstreth, a strategic projects coordinator, encouraged participants to be introspective. “A lot of this work involves critically examining what we’ve done in the past, taking in new information and making changes for the future. It’s about consistent learning and understanding.”

In higher education, supporting Black students begins with recognizing where, when and how they experience anti-Black attitudes and behavior.  

“This can be difficult, because it’s not always as overt as hate crimes or racial profiling,” said Erb. She cited three “covert” forms of prejudice that Black students routinely face.


A comment or action that subtly, and often unconsciously or unintentionally, conveys prejudice toward a member of a marginalized group, such as a racial minority.

Code Switching

Adjusting your speech, behavior or appearance based on a particular audience, for example, a student who tones down their authentic self to seem “less Black” and so more approachable to majority students, faculty and staff.

Racial Battle Fatigue

The cumulative result of facing racially dismissive, demeaning, insensitive and hostile environments and individuals.

Longstreth advocated for creating “safe spaces” on campus. “At different points in time, you have spheres of influence over spaces that you are part of or lead,” he said. “Communicate with Black students that this is a space where they are not only safe, but where they also belong.”

For example, make yourself known as an ally by publicly calling out racism and supporting anti-racism events and organizations. Other actions are to use inclusive grading and teaching practices, recognize traumatic events and their impact on Black students, and bring symbols of solidarity and support into classrooms and offices.

Addressing microaggressions is another critical way to support Black students. Faculty and staff should learn to recognize — and interrupt — these subtle acts of prejudice when they occur, whether in public or private settings.

“Ask yourself: Whose comfort are we protecting if we don’t address microaggressions?” said Longstreth. “Be vigilant about your own biases and fears. Give permission for feedback and be a good role model by owning your own mistakes.”

More Strategies for Supporting Black Students

DO help students connect with their peers, staff and faculty — if they have expressed an interest in doing so.

DON’T outsource the support of Black students to the Multicultural Center.

DO intentionally build relationships with Black students and provide spaces where their voice will be heard.

DON’T demand that students relive negative or even traumatic experiences just to educate you.

DO engage in your own research. And if a student trusts you enough to disclose parts of their story and lived experience, listen!

DON’T let defensiveness get the best of you.

DO understand that no one gets this work right 100% of the time. If someone calls you out on your behavior, thank them for bringing it to your attention, learn from the experience, and commit to changing your actions for the future.

The annual Community Learning Conference promotes professional development for Bentley faculty and staff. It is sponsored by the offices of Human Resources and Diversity and Inclusion.

Making Bentley an Anti-Racist Campus