In an era in American society characterized by some as “post-racial” is there still a role for colleges and universities that are largely separated by race?

Suffolk faculty member Tryan McMickens’s doctoral dissertation – Racism Readiness as an Educational Outcome of Graduates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): A Multi-Campus Grounded Theory Study – offers empirical evidence on the continued relevance of these institutions and what that means for their graduates, academia and society as a whole.

A supportive environment promotes success

McMickens’s interest in the role of HBCUs was deepened by his own undergraduate experience at the predominantly African American Tuskegee University in Alabama. A trusted high school teacher had advised him against his choice, implying that HBCUs provided a more limited experience that was “not as good” as other schools. His own experience disproved that prediction.

“I found a very encouraging culture, a ‘safe space’ for learning,” recalls McMickens, who likens the supportive environment at an HBCU to that sometimes found by women attending single-gender institutions.

“My dissertation research, which consisted of over 80 face-to-face interviews with Black alumni, focused on student outcomes. Specifically, I looked at the ways in which HBCUs prepare their students to respond to racist encounters in predominantly White post-undergraduate environments, such as workplace settings and graduate programs.”

Award-winning research

McMickens’s scholarship is gaining recognition among his peers in higher education and receiving accolades from the academic community. His dissertation was recently honored with the PDK International Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award. A summary of his dissertation will appear in the May 2012 issue of PDK’s Kappan, a leading magazine on education policy and practice.

McMickens was also First Runner-Up for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Hardee Dissertation of the Year Award. He will present his work at the 2012 NASPA national conference in Phoenix, AZ next month. He was also appointed a member of NASPA’s Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice editorial board for the 2012– 2015 term.

Applications for all schools

McMickens’s work in this area has important implications beyond HBCUs, for the field of education in general. He explains, “My research offers strategies to enhance teaching and learning, student development, and career development at predominantly white institutions.”

McMickens earned a master’s degree in the administration of higher education program at Suffolk before completing his doctorate in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania. He returned here to teach in the Master of Education in Administration of Higher Education Program in fall 2011.

“I am passionate about teaching, learning, and exploring ways that education can positively influence one’s life,” says McMickens. “Suffolk’s commitment to access and excellence is closely aligned with my own beliefs in higher education. The two concepts can and must exist side-by-side.”