Experiencing the learning environment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) has a positive mental health effect on Black students, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology’s March 2023 issue.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health examined mental health outcomes for Black students attending HBCUs compared with Black students attending predominantly white institutions (PWI).
It’s well documented that institutional racism in the education system impedes academic success for Black students, the researchers said. But the impact of structural racism on students’ mental health is less known.
They tested the theory that Black students at HBCUs would be less exposed to structural racism than Black students who attended predominantly PWIs.
“HBCUs are an essential part of higher education, but there has been little research examining how attending an HBCU versus a PWI is associated with mental health for Black students,” Naomi Thyden, an author of the study, said.
“This research provides evidence that the HBCU environment can have a positive impact on long-term mental health outcomes for Black students.”
The researchers tracked almost 500 Black students beginning in high school, through college, and several years after college.
Among participants who experienced depression in their teens, those who attended HBCUs reported fewer depressive symptoms seven years after college compared to those who attended mostly white institutions.
Researchers also observed regional differences. For example, HBCU attendance protected Black students from depression if they attended high school outside the South.
The study calls for equitable government funding for HBCU. Researchers also urged predominantly white colleges to mirror some aspects of the HBCU experience, such as adding Black faculty mentors, creating more affinity spaces for Black students, and introducing a more inclusive curriculum instead of focusing on the white experience.