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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Invisible Tax: Exploring Black Student Engagement at Historically White Institutions

  • Author(s): Givens, Jarvis R.
  • et al.

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Given the upsurge of political demonstrations by Black students in response to the highly publicized killings of unarmed Black people, this paper explores student engagement theory through the racialized experiences of Black students at Historically White Institutions (HWIs). Employing autoethnography and analyzing secondary literature on historical and contemporary experiences of Black students in higher education, this paper argues that traditional readings of student engagement theory fail to capture the complexities of Black student engagement. In confronting anti-Blackness, these students pay an invisible tax that manifests in the mental, physical, and emotional resources that could be allocated to promote success in the campus environment but are instead utilized to merely survive as students. Black students experience a set of inherent dilemmas; they are both invested in higher education for social uplift, and they simultaneously employ Black nationalist ideals through their student organizing—these challenges are present within the broader trajectory of Black education.

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