Black Women in Black and White College Environments: The Making of a Matriarch


392 Central Park West, Apartment 14C, New York City, NY 10025.


The social science literature portrays conflicting images of black women: as dominant and assertive, and as the victims of the “double jeopardy” of being both black and female. This paper discusses how predominantly black or predominantly white college environments differentially encourage characteristics associated with each image. Samples of over 500 black females who were freshman or seniors, in one of two all black or four predominantly white colleges, were given a large battery of questionnaires to assess the impact of college. The results show that the adverse conditions of predominantly white colleges were more likely to encourage self reliance and assertiveness, characteristics reminiscent of the “matriarchal” image in social science literature. In contrast, the supportive conditions of predominantly black schools were more likely to encourage a social passivity that may undercut the simultaneous greater academic gains at black colleges. This suggests a dilemma that is characteristic for white women, and perhaps also suggests the image of black women as the victims of double discrimination.