Study Finds That Black and White Infants Start Out on a Level Playing Field in Cognitive Development

It is well known to readers of this journal that black students on average score lower than white students on the SAT and ACT college entrance examinations. So, too, blacks tend to score lower on the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, and LSAT tests, which serve as gatekeepers to the nation’s graduate programs. Black youngsters also score lower on average than whites on National Assessment of Education Progress examinations given to K-12 students. Even black adults tend to score lower than whites on IQ tests.

For years a debate has raged whether these test score differences are caused by an innate genetic deficiency among blacks or whether environmental factors cause lower test scores.

A new study published in the journal Sociological Perspectives offers strong evidence that genetics has nothing to do with the test score gap and that environmental factors such as healthcare and family income play the major role in producing the racial gap in test scores. Measuring the cognitive abilities of infants offers a baseline figure of where blacks and whites start out relative to each other. If black and white babies start out on a level playing field but racial differences emerge later in life, a strong case can be made that environmental factors, rather than genetics, explain the persisting black-white test score gaps that occur later in life.

The author of the study, Phyllis L.F. Rippeyoung, an assistant professor of sociology at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, used data on nearly 11,000 children born in the year 2001. Surveyors were sent to the homes of the babies in the study. Parents were interviewed and the babies were observed and tested to assess their development.

The study’s most important finding is that, overall, black infants score lower than white infants on cognitive development measures. But when socioeconomic variables are the same and factors such as the predominance of low birthweight babies among African Americans are controlled for, black infants score slightly higher than white infants on cognitive development measures. So black and white babies who are born healthy, who receive adequate prenatal and natal care, and whose mothers are healthy do just as well as whites on early cognitive tests.

The results of this study point to the need for better prenatal and postnatal care for African-American mothers and their infants. Nutritional programs, vitamin intake, cessation of tobacco, alcohol, and drug use during pregnancy, and encouraging black mothers to breastfeed may be the best strategies to eliminate the black-white test score gap.



The Racial Gap in Binge Drinking Among College-Age Blacks and Whites Is Getting Smaller

The most recent survey of incoming college students conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA shows that young blacks are far less likely than young whites to drink alcohol. Other surveys have shown that drinking alcohol is not as prevalent among African-American college students as it is for their white peers.

But a recent study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and published in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry finds that the racial gap may be closing. The report found that binge-drinking rates for black males in the 21-23 age group had increased since 1979 whereas there was no similar increase among whites. The study also found increases in binge drinking among black females in both the 12-17 and 18-20 age groups. But there was no increase in binge-drinking behaviors among white females in these age groups.


Hampton University Wants Stimulus Money to Convert Nineteenth-Century Power Plant to Clean Energy Technology

The campus heating system at historically black Hampton University in Virginia operates with a coal-powered steam generation plant that was built in 1868. The plant emits 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Hampton president William Harvey has asked the U.S. Department of Energy for a $35 million grant under the economic stimulus plan to convert the university’s coal-powered plant to one that runs on geothermal energy.


Oberlin College Graduate Appointed to Chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Jacqueline A. Berrien was nominated by President Obama to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Since 2004 Berrien has served as associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Prior to that appointment she was a program officer for the peace and social justice program at the Ford Foundation.

Berrien is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she majored in English. She went on to graduate from Harvard Law School where she served as general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. After law school she was a clerk for U.W. Clemon, the first African American on the U.S. district court in Birmingham, Alabama.


Finalists Named for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University has announced three finalists for the 2009 Frederick Douglass Book Prize. The prize is awarded for the best nonfiction book on slavery or related topics. It comes with a $25,000 cash award.

The winner of the award will be announced in September and will be presented at a ceremony at the Yale Club in New York City in February.

The three finalists are:

Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph (Cambridge University Press);

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton); and

Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War by Jacqueline Jones (Alfred A. Knopf).

The Gordon-Reed book is the heavy favorite given that she has already won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the George Washington Book Prize.


In Memoriam

Twiley W. Barker Jr. (1926-2009)

Twiley W. Barker Jr., longtime professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, died at a hospital in Chicago after a long respiratory illness. He was 83 years old.

With his brother, political scientist Lucius Barker, Twiley Barker coauthored the widely used textbook Civil Liberties and the Constitution: Cases and Commentaries. First published in 1970, the textbook is now in its eighth edition and is used in upper-level political science courses at colleges and universities across the United States.

A native of Louisiana, his parents were both schoolteachers. Twiley and Lucius both picked cotton to earn extra money for the family. Twiley Barker attended Tuskegee Institute but left to join the Army. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Southern University after World War II.

Twiley Barker earned a master’s and Ph.D. in political science at the University of Illinois. He taught at Southern University for five years before joining the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1962. He taught there for 32 years.

Kenneth M. Stampp (1912-2009)

Kenneth Stampp, Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California at Berkeley, died last month in Oakland at the age of 96. Stampp’s 1956 book, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, was a landmark study that inspired a new generation of scholarly study on slavery in America.

Stampp was a native of Milwaukee. He held bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in history, all from the University of Wisconsin. He was hired to the Berkeley faculty in 1946 and remained there until his retirement in 1983. In 1965 he participated in the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in Alabama.


7.9%  Percentage of white students in grades K-8 in 2007 who had been held back a grade at some point in their educational career.

16.4%  Percentage of black students in grades K-8 in 2007 who had been held back a grade at some point in their educational career.

source: U.S. Census Bureau


Honors and Awards

• Annette Pridgen, assistant professor of accounting at the University of Mississippi, received the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Accounting Association. Dr. Pridgen received her Ph.D. at the University of Mississippi last fall. Her dissertation concerned the accounting procedures for state and local governments set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.

Dr. Pridgen holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Jackson State University.

• Anna Teschemaker, a doctoral student in the pharmacy program at Howard University in Washington, D.C., received the dissertation award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Her dissertation examines the cost-effectiveness of anticoagulation care versus genetic testing.



• Columbia University’s Center for Community Health and Education received a $600,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for a program to increase access to community-based health services for young men in Harlem and other New York City communities near the university’s campus.

• The United Negro College Fund received a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the organization’s Emergency Student Aid Campaign. The funds will be used to provide scholarships for students at UNCF-member institutions.

• South Carolina State University, the historically black educational institution in Orangeburg, received a $147,119 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The money will be used to train professionals in collections management at the university’s Stanback Museum. The grant will also be used to establish a student internship program at the museum.

For breaking news and previews of upcoming articles


The Higher Education of the Nation’s Newest Black Astronaut

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has chosen nine individuals to join the nation’s astronaut corps from a group of applicants of more than 3,500 candidates. One of the nine new astronauts is black.

Jeanette J. Epps, 38 years old, of Fairfax, Virginia, was a technical intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. A native of Syracuse, New York, Dr. Epps is a graduate of LeMoyne College. In 2000 she earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland.


“There were 20 nice white kids and they got beaten up for it, 75 bad kids, and 1,900-plus silent witnesses.”

Minnijean Brown Trickey, speaking at a leadership program for teenage girls in Arkansas about her experience in 1957 when she was one of the nine black students who racially integrated Little Rock Central High School


The Racial Gap in High School Graduations Leaves Blacks Far Behind Whites in College Eligibility

As was always the case, the minimum prerequisite for entrance to college is a high school diploma. But even with this most basic credential, blacks trail whites by a significant margin.

Nationwide, about 69 percent of all students graduate from high school on time. But in graduation rates there are major differences between blacks and whites. In the United States, 76.1 percent of all white students graduate from high school on time. For blacks, only 51.2 percent of all students graduate from high school on schedule.

According to a new report from the EPE Research Center, in particular states there are also major racial differences in high school graduation rates. The highest black student high school graduation rate is in Arizona. There, 67.6 percent of all black students earn their high school diploma. New Jersey has the second-highest rate for blacks at 67.3 percent.

The lowest black student high school graduation rate is in Nevada. Only slightly more than one third of all black students in Nevada graduate from high school. In Michigan only 38.4 percent of black students graduate from high school.

Hawaii is the only state in the union where blacks are more likely than whites to graduate from high school on time. The widest racial gaps in high school graduation rates are found in Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.


Fourteen-Year-Old Black Girl Enters Pre-Med Honors Program at Mary Baldwin College

Marne Garretson, a 14-year-old African American, just completed ninth grade at the public high school in Clarksburg, Maryland. She will not be returning for her sophomore year.

Instead, 14-year-old Garretson will enroll in the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students (PEG) in the Global Honors Scholars Program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. She will become a member of the Class of 2013 and complete her high school course requirements as part of her college curriculum. Blacks make up 18 percent of all undergraduate enrollments at the college.

The PEG program for gifted young girls was begun at Mary Baldwin College 20 years ago. Seventy students are now enrolled. All entering PEG students live in a separate dormitory with adult supervision.

Garretson plans to major in clinical laboratory science. She hopes to one day earn a medical degree and a Ph.D. and to conduct research.


Seven Black Academics Win Guggenheim Fellowships

The Guggenheim Fellowship is one of America’s most prestigious awards. The annual grants go to artists, scholars, and scientists on the basis of distinguished accomplishments as well as for demonstrated potential for exceptional achievement in future endeavors. The grants are sometimes referred to as midcareer fellowships. But this year the ages of the winners are from 29 to 70 years old.

In 2009 nearly 3,000 people applied for Guggenheim Fellowships and 180 were selected for grants. The Guggenheim Foundation does not publish statistics on the race of the recipients of its awards. Yet JBHE has determined that at least 10 of this year’s 180 awards went to blacks. Of these 10 individuals, seven have current academic affiliations.

Here is a brief look at the seven black academics who were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships this year.

• Chris Abani, a native of Nigeria, is professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. Professor Abani is author of the award-winning novels Song for Night and The Virgin of Flames.

Jabari Asim is scholar-in-residence at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Asim spent 11 years at The Washington Post, where he served as deputy editor of the book review. For three years Asim wrote a syndicated column on political and social issues for the Post.

• Thomas L. Bradshaw is a playwright. He is also assistant professor of English at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. Bradshaw is a graduate of Bard College and holds a master in fine arts degree from Brooklyn College.

• Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School. This year she has won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the George Washington Book Prize for her book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.

• Terrance Hayes is a professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. This year he is one of only nine poets of any race selected for Guggenheim Fellowships.

• Wadada Leo Smith is an accomplished trumpeter and composer. He is currently director of the African-American improvisational music program at the California Institute of the Arts.

• Deborah Gray White is Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University. She specializes in African-American and women’s history. She is currently working on a book entitled Can’t We All Get Along: The Cultural Awakenings of the 1990s.



Appointments, Promotions & Resignations

• Gerald B. Coleman was appointed vice president for finance and administration at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. He was a vice president at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas.

• Davarian L. Baldwin was named Paul E. Rather Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He was an associate professor of history at Boston College.

Professor Baldwin is a graduate of Marquette University. He holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from New York University.

• Mande Holford was appointed assistant professor of chemistry at York College of the City University of New York. She recently completed her Ph.D. in synthetic protein chemistry at Rockefeller University.

• A. Benjamin Spencer, an associate professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia, was appointed special assistant to the U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia. He will remain on the law school faculty while completing his public service.

• Arthur G. Affleck was named vice chancellor for development and university relations at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. He was senior vice president at B&C Association, a consulting firm. He previously held development positions at Bennett College for Women, Hampton University, and Winston-Salem State University.

Affleck is a graduate of Tuskegee University, where he majored in biology. He holds a master’s degree in educational administration from Auburn University and a law degree from American University.

• Lewis Liddell Sr., associate professor of music and director of bands for Jackson State University in Mississippi for the past 17 years, has announced his retirement.

Dr. Liddell is a graduate of Jackson State University. He holds a master’s degree in music education from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and a doctorate from Mississippi State University.


Copyright © 2009. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.