Anne Charity Hudley
Department of Linguistics
North Hall Endowed Chair in the Linguistics of African America
University of California, Santa Barbara
Talking College: A Community Based Language and Racial Identity Development Model for Black College Student Justice
As Ashkenas, Park, and Pearce (2017) summarize, Black and Latix students “are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago. The share of Black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans”. Inequalities in the U.S. higher education landscape emphasize the need for continued conversations about how to recruit and retain students of color, how to remove barriers to academic and social success, and how to make colleges and universities sites of educational access and equity.
Critical knowledge about language and culture is an integral part of the quest for educational equity and empowerment in higher education. As Black students transition from high school to college, they seek to add their voices and perspectives to academic discourse and to the scholarly community in a way that is both advantageous and authentic.
While the value of helping Black people understand and appreciate linguistic variation has been elucidated in the linguistic literature in large part due to the work of William Labov and his intentional recruiting of Black and Latinx graduate students, we must now work to add nuance and applicability to the research and the overall message in order to be able to make structural rather than incremental change. And we must also work together to ensure that students from underrepresented groups are recruited and retained in linguistics and related disciplines.
The Talking College Project is a Black student and Black studies centered way of learning more about the particular linguistic choices of Black students while empowering them to be proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage. The Talking College Project is funded by the University of California-Historically Black College and University (UC-HBCU) Initiative and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program. Students take introductory linguistics courses that examine the role of language in the Black college experience and collect information from college students through interviews and ethnography. We value the perspectives of undergraduates from a range of disciplinary backgrounds as researchers and we have a special focus on students at institutions that do not offer linguistics as a major.
One key question of The Talking College Project is: how does the acquisition of different varieties of Black language and culture overlap with identity development, particularly intersectional racial identity development? To answer this question, we conducted over 80 interviews with Black students at several Minority-Serving Institutions, Historically Black College, and Predominantly White Universities. Based on information collected from the interviews, it is evident that Black students often face linguistic bias and may need additional support and guidance as they navigate the linguistic terrain of higher education. But despite these challenges, we also show how students work diligently to make sense of their educational, racial, and linguistic realities.