Erin Smith has been with the Towson branch of the online magazine Her Campus since she was a freshman. Now she’s the Editor-in-Chief. She divides her time between discussing story ideas with her writers at meetings, acting as a liaison with the national and editing articles.Teamwork, communication and organization—these are the things that Smith wants future employers to see. But race is another factor that will affect her future. Already, she’s seem the difference in working at a black magazine and working at a magazine that is aimed at young women of all races.
“With Sister2Sister, everything was about being black,” Smith said of her first internship. “95% of the celebrities we talked about were black. I remember there was this one article where the publisher interviewed the rapper Eve. In the article Eve talked about having a white husband and readers got so offended.”
Her second internship at Girl’s Life is completely different.
“With Girl’s Life, it’s all about writing for teenage girls no matter the race,” she said. “The majority of the pictures are of girls that are white, but that’s the dynamic of America.”
The dynamic of America is skewed in other ways. Of the black population over 25 in America, only twenty percent have earned a bachelor’s degree. In May, however, Smith will graduate.She’s poised to become a successful African-American woman in the world of mass media after leaving school.
“I think it’ll be challenging,” she said. “But I’m not going to let it stand in my way.”
Historically, African-American students like Erin have had a lower rate of getting through college and entering the professional world. African-Americans earned about 165 thousand bachelor’s degrees in 2010, compared with more than 1.6 million degrees earned by white students that same year, according to the Department of Education.
But the number of degrees earned by African-American students increased by 53 percent from the number of degrees earned 10 years before. Students who attend college in Maryland are in an especially good place. More African-Americans over 25 with a bachelor’s degree live in Maryland than any other state. And there are four historically black colleges in the state—Coppin State University, Bowie State University, Morgan State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
This rise in black college graduates has a significant impact on African-Americans moving from college into the career world. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports that African-Americans who had a bachelor’s degree have substantially higher incomes than those who don’t go to college, or those who attend but don’t graduate.
And the number of African-Americans finishing college is on the rise. In fact, the journal found that a black student at Pomona College, Wellesley College, Macalester College, Smith College or Mount Holyoke College is more likely to graduate than a white student at the same school, despite the fact none of these are historically black colleges.
Like Erin, Leah Franklin exudes confidence. Tall and serene, it’s difficult to imagine that, she had trouble getting used to her new college.
“I transferred here in fall 2013 and I had a really hard time adjusting here,” Franklin said. “I knew no one and I literally called my parents crying every day.”
So Franklin took action to become more involved on campus. She started attending Towson’s transfer student programs, and soon made friends with other students who were in the same boat. She landed a job as a caller at an alumni fundraising office. And she started an internship with New Student Program’s marketing division.
“We were given the task to pick an issue on campus and figure out how we could conquer it,” Franklin said of her internship. “I chose the way transfer students become familiar to Tiger Town.”
After attending LeaderShape in January, Franklin was even more determined to make a difference for campus. She created the Transfer Student Welcome Committee, a program designed to help ease the transition into campus life at Towson. The committee began in the spring 2014 semester, and Franklin says the first meeting, on February 5, was a success.
“We’ll assist incoming and current transfers adjust to life here through once a week meetings, socials, talking with guest speakers, and other on-campus events and activities during the semester,” Franklin said.
As a black woman in a position of leadership on campus, Franklin says she feels humbled to have this opportunity.
“It’s really great that I was given the opportunity to share my story to others and they actually support me,” Franklin said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, African-American women are only about six percent of the professional and management workforce in the United States. Leah Franklin aims to be among them. She has plans to continue her work with student programs, and wants to take it further than just Towson.
“I plan to continue this type of organization, but on a more global perspective,” Franklin said. “Ultimately, I want to make this type of organization available to many schools across the nation.”
Besides, Leah doesn’t have time to listen to naysayers. She has pizza parties to plan and guest speakers to book. She’s a busy young woman, and there’s a lot to do.
While Maryland boasts the highest percentage of African-Americans with college degrees, it borders Pennsylvania and West Virginia—two of the worst-performing states in the country. The state with the lowest number of African-Americans over 25 having earned a bachelor’s degree is Wisconsin, with only 12.2 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 20 percent of black Americans with college degrees is 10 percent less than the national average.
Another issue is the disparity between African-American men and women with college educations. Women make up 66 percent of all African-Americans with bachelor’s degrees, and that number has not improved since 1999. Of the five colleges with higher black graduation rates than white, three are women’s colleges. Joan Maze, Director for African-American Student Development at Towson University, says that society encourages black women more than black men to pursue higher education.
“As teachers, we are human beings, and we tend to focus our attention where we perceive it will be best spent and we miss those who fall through the cracks, boys especially,” said Maze.
Maze also says that historical under-representation of women, women are encouraged more to succeed while it seems taboo to encourage black men just as much.
This may be, blackdemographics.com suggests, that black men have been more likely to be guided towards the military or a trade school than their female peers. The number of African-American high school seniors with plans to attend a four-year institution has doubled in the past ten years, while the number of those with plans other than college has fallen.
Compared to their white peers, the past twenty years have shown significant increases in African-Americans earning equivalent salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the buying power of African-Americans will grow from $1 trillion now to $1.3 trillion in 2017, in part because of higher salaries earned by a greater number of college graduates.
Between being the president of the Black Student Union at Towson and being involved with The National Council of Negro Women along with Sisterhood and balancing an international business major, junior Tiara Swain has a lot on her plate. With her shining personality and willingness to lead, she is the perfect role model not just for African-American students but for all students because in December 2014, she is graduating a semester early. Swain attributes her early departure from Towson to her success in high school.
“I came to Towson with eight AP (Advanced Placement) classes, so I didn’t have to take some classes that freshmen do. I had the advantage of not having to take Biology or Calculus because I took it in high school,” Swain said.
Swain, like many students, says that her work ethic in high school is due to her upbringing. Her father raised her as a single parent and instilled key life lessons in her at an early age.
“He taught me the importance of education, community service and the importance of serving others. To always exceed your own expectations,” Swain said. “Basically the importance of being successful.”
Similar to people from minority groups, Swain says that sometimes, certain factors have made applying for jobs harder.
“I’m a female and I’m black. That’s two strikes right there. Usually, when I apply for jobs, I’m competing against white males and sometimes I get looks,” Swain said.
But that doesn’t stop her. Its actually the force that drives all her success.
“That’s what motivates me, knowing that I can beat all these stereotypes. I just don’t want to be known as a typical black girl. I’m more than that. I’m more than a female, I’m more than the color of my skin. I don’t want to be know as that black girl,” Swain said “I want to be known as that students that going places.