Finding love while Black: The difference for Black men and women at PWIs and HBCUs

October 11, 2022

Dating at any age can have challenges, especially for Black students, depending on whether they go to a Predominantly White Institute (PWI) or Historically Black College and University (HBCU). 

When Black students attend PWIs and start dating, it is a bit of a challenge. Black students can be faced with not being the desired type by White students. If they date within their race, they not only have to deal with a small population of Black students, but also colorism and unfair beauty standards within their community.

Colorism is defined in the Webster dictionary as discrimination largely within ethnicity groups that provides people with lighter skin color more privilage than people with darker skin.

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Southern Illinois University is a PWI. The definition of a PWI is an institution that has a more than 50% population of White students. This is important because, according to the National Association of College and Employers, the college population nationwide is 13% Black.

According to the SIU enrollment website, the Black demographic at the school has gone up 3% from last year, meaning 1,665 Black students are currently enrolled this year. While the number of Black students has increased, they can still feel out of place.

Mariam Al-Faruqi, a first-year student studying psychology, said she came to SIU because her grandparents met here. But, when she first got here, she did not want to jump into a relationship right away.

“I was a little nervous. My older sister went to [an] HBCU. So when I heard about her adventures and how she was dating and her life, I was like okay, well, I’m going to [a] PWI and I don’t know if my experience is going to be as grand,” she said.

Al-Faruqi said seeing there were more Black students on campus than she thought seeing that many students shook off that fear.

The most noticeable difference, she said, is when a Black woman tries to date outside of their race, they have an unnecessary amount of judgment and Black men do not.

“I think overall there is a larger stigma against Black women dating outside of their race, especially because most of the time they’ll receive backlash even from people they don’t know,” Al-Faruqi said. “For either, ‘A’ not dating a black man, and ‘how are you giving up on your own community’ and ‘you need to help your community’ and also they aren’t seen as the desired for most people who are not their race.” 

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Simran Subramaniam, a graduate of Trinity College-Hartford wrote a senior thesis that explores how hookup culture is different for people of color at Trinity College. Patricia Hill Collins, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland wrote a book called “Black Sexual politics”, that explores how the politics in regards to black sexuality can be damaging. Collins, talks about in her book how Black women are seen as less desireable than White women and have to compensate by being hypersexual.

She said due to these sterotypes being popular, it reduces Black bodies to just being seen as just objects of sexual desire.

Subramaniam points out the racial double standard between Black men and Black women when it comes to interracial dating or hookups. One of her participants said, Black women are opening themselves up to fetishization when they get with White men.

Another of her participants said when White women get with Black men they are seen as breaking racial barriers.

Courtney Alexander, an alum of SIU, said she has noticed from social media and from personal experience that some Black men have this mentality that Black women are only attractive if they look a certain way. 

“I’ve seen a lot of damaging things online and I’ve heard some things in person as well. […] And it’s so offensive when guys ask me ‘Oh, are you mixed with something?’ You have curly hair [and] the shape of my eyes,” she said. “They always insinuate that I’m mixed with something and I’m just, ‘why does it matter?’ I’m a Black woman and I am me.”

Alexander said this mentality plays into colorism because that mindset assumes for Black women to be attractive they have to be lighter skinned.

Cheyenne Lillard, a fourth-year student studying psychology said, from her personal experience, the stereotype that Black women are unapproachable and rude, makes it difficult for Black women like her to make connections.

“I feel like it’s harder at a PWI… because people prefer lighter-skinned women or women who are White, at times, or women who are ambiguous looking,” she said. […] “That does kind of hinder us and then, like, the whole stereotype people like to say ‘oh that stereotype is not like this,’ is old now, the whole angry black female, but how come, when I’m approached, you immediately [say] ‘you look mean’ to me.”

Lillard said HBCUs could possibly also present their own string of challenges for Black women when they try to date.

“I can’t say that [dating at one is easier] because I’ve never been to an HBCU. I’m pretty sure it’s probably just about the same, but they probably do the same thing where you’d have to fit the aesthetics of a certain type of Black girl that is pleasing to them. Like, do you have the latest fashion and do you have the nicest hair, the bust down frontals and sewin’ and stuff like that,”

Brittany Sharkey, a first-year student studying health care management, said because people focus too much on looks now, it is hard to get to know someone. She said because Black women are often perceived as loud or ghetto, it makes it harder for Black women to date.

Thomas Boyd, a fifth-year student studying computer science said, when looking for a relationship, most people want to find someone who can understand certain issues that affect them and how those issues make them feel.

“There are certain topics that, if you were to say, if I were speaking to another Black person, they would get me on those topics. For example, differences in treatment, growing up in schools, especially if you went to predominantly White institutions,” Boyd said.

The population of Black students is not very large at PWIs, so when people go on dating apps they will mainly see White people in their area, he said. This can be a challenge when a Black person is trying to find someone with whom they have similar experiences.

“I would imagine those stereotypes that we see amongst Black men and Black women and Black non-binary people, we don’t necessarily emphasize them because we’re on the same team in that situation,” Boyd said. […] “I have seen some situations where you’ll be looked at differently because you hang out with Black people too much. ‘Why don’t you come hang out with us’ or ‘you hang out with White people too much? Why don’t you go hang out with Black people?’”

HBCUs could be a better dating environment for black people than PWIs because, at HBCUs, Black students will not have to worry about being judged as much for who they hang out with or deal with unwarranted stereotypes, he said.

Christian Devine, a second-year student studying broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri, a PWI, said Black students can get exhausted from trying to date on campus and try to date outside of their school.

“I would say dating can have a mental toll because, often, it’s harder to date outside of college because you don’t have that interaction with people as you do while you’re in college. Because there are like tens of thousands of people on campuses. So it’d be easier for you to date in college without going outside of college,” Devine said.

Carlandra Harris, a first-year student at Alabama State University studying biomedical engineering, said she feels at home attending her HBCU because she is close with her community and Black women are in her opinion are sought after more at HBCUs.

Cameryn Batiste, Paris Watkins, and Talisha Daniels, are fourth-year students at Xavier University, they said dating at an HBCU has some big differences when compared to dating at a PWI.

Batiste said having a wider dating pool of black people is good, especially if you are another Black person who wants to date black people. She said their school being in the south does help expose everyone to Black culture more.

Watkins said, in her opinion there is more of a social beauty standard than a beauty standard.

“Fashion wise, you got to dress a certain type of way. Like, if you don’t, if you’re the artsy fartsy or the thriftin chic or if you just wear a regular everyday clothes, you’re probably not gonna get anyone. People are attracted to those who know how to dress,” she said.

Daniels said, just being at an HBCU is an amazing experience in and of itself, because you are around people who understand you and who relate to you.

Sydney Jones, a second-year student at Tennessee State, said when she attended Lawrence Tech University in Michigan, due to it being a small PWI and a mostly male STEM school, she felt out of place.

“There is a saying that, like the majority of the Black women that I’ve met at the PWI, it was, like, ‘am I ugly or do I attend a PWI?’ Because dating was pretty much, I wouldn’t say nonexistent because there were a few of us that did or were in relationships, but it was very scarce, I guess you would say,” Jones said.

She said when Black women end up going to PWIs, not being around that many black people, and Black men who grew up in that area being used to dating White women, it severely limits Black women’s options when it comes to dating.

“To the Black young women and men on campus, don’t let people with an ignorant mindset discourage you from what you truly want. I say ‘stay focused on yourself for the time being, but [as] always, if you know what you want, go for it. Don’t let people discourage you from that,’” Alexander said.

Staff reporter Janiyah Gaston can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @DEJaniyah. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois News follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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