Nation’s First-Ever Black Honors College Hopes to Inspire Others

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University of California, Sacramento President Luke Wood, PhD, (center) with students, faculty, and staff. (Photo courtesy of Sacramento State University Flickr.)

A special kind of energy comes with doing something no one else has, and it’s buzzing around California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State), this spring as early applications are being reviewed for the inaugural cohort of 70 students who will enroll in the trailblazing Black Honors College (BHC).

The co-curricular college’s stated vision — to provide students with the necessary academic, professional, and social skills to become advanced, productive contributors to society — speaks to the intention behind it.

With 6,000 square feet of dedicated office, classroom, study, and conference spaces located on the garden level of the university library, this unique educational experience is proudly situated in the heart of campus.

Applicants must meet the admissions requirements of Sacramento State, as well as have a GPA of 3.5 or above and a specific interest in Black studies. Accepted students will have access to scholarships, campus housing, dedicated counselors and advisors, and distinguished recognition upon completion of their degree program.

The fall 2024 application is open to incoming first-year students. Transfer and existing Sacramento State students are eligible to apply for spring 2025.

‘If it’s important, you prioritize it.’

Planning and development of the BHC began in August 2023, and “has been a joyful, intensive, and very efficient experience,” said Boatomo Ati Mosupyoe, PhD, dean of students and chief administration officer for the BHC. “We have collaborated and consulted with all of the necessary stakeholders,” she said, “and we are united in our commitment to taking this to greater heights.”

It is unusual for an academic initiative of this scope to come together so quickly, and Sacramento State President Luke Wood, PhD, acknowledges that, but, he said, “If it’s important, you prioritize it. We have the largest population of Black students in the [California State University] system, and our success depends on the success of those students. We knew it was important to do something different to serve them.” Because Sacramento State isn’t able to seek a historically Black college designation, and it is rare for a college to be denoted as a predominantly Black institution, they created their own designation.

“We’re a Black serving institution,” Wood said, in another example of the innovative solutions being demonstrated by Sacramento State. He believes that ten years from now, Black honors colleges will exist across the country. “We’re being very intentional about documenting what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, so others can replicate this and network, together with HBCUs, to meet the needs of Black students.”

Wood explained that the hallmark of graduates from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) is “their level of confidence in their academic abilities, their focus on what they’re doing in life, and their attention to their goals.” When Black students seek a degree at an HBCU, they see educators who look like them, and they come away from that experience with a network of supportive individuals to guide and encourage them.

“Our goal,” Wood said, “is to give them the mechanism to create that experience at Sacramento State.”

Curriculum … and Then Some
The BHC, which provides an accelerated path through general education courses, is open to applicants of all races and backgrounds. Because the activities and curriculum are organized around the Black and African American experience, faculty selected for the college have a demonstrated record of success teaching and supporting Black students.

President Luke Wood, PhD, at the Sacramento State PRIDE Center. (Photo courtesy of Sacramento State University Flickr.)

Mosupyoe led curriculum development for the BHC, and it focuses on imbuing typical general education courses with an emphasis on Black history, life, culture, experiences, and contributions. While it’s not uncommon for students to be able to enroll in an African American literature course, those options don’t exist for disciplines like mathematics, for example, where “[they] regularly hear about formulas that were created by people of Euro descent,” she said. “We want students to also learn about the work and contributions of Black people, so we put a lot of thought into the design of the curriculum.”

Ruth Williams, BHC director of staff, explained it further. “We get a lot of questions about the difference between us and an honors program. Honors programs typically focus on one discipline and are very academically rigorous. What makes us unique is that we’re admitting across disciplines, while moving beyond academics so our students can grow inside the classroom and outside it as well.”

Sacramento State has a strong community engagement focus, so along with unique opportunities to participate in research with faculty; internships; and seminars on economic empowerment, self-determination, and courageous leadership, BHC students will also be able to interact with dedicated advisors, experience specialized coursework, and work on service projects that connect them with the community.

“When the Black Honors College was first announced, we asked for faculty feedback. Their responses were primarily focused on ensuring the students are engaging in the kind of community service practice that reflects the values of our institution,” said Wood.

“We’re being very intentional about documenting what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, so others can replicate this and network, together with HBCUs, to meet the needs of Black students.” Luke Wood, PhD Sacramento State president

Degree of Interest
Williams and Mosupyoe have both been moved by the overwhelmingly positive response to the creation of the college, and not only from Black students. “I anticipated a lot of curiosity about [BHC] and many non-Black students have approached us and expressed their excitement,” Mosupyoe said.

Students from a range of racial backgrounds have contacted the campus asking if they’re able to apply, and Williams is thrilled for the opportunity this will afford them all to come together through their carefully curated content focused on achieving the BHC vision and mission.

In the course of developing the BHC, leadership have held open briefings to explain the goals, methods, and benefits of the college to the community. At one meeting, a student was brought to tears at the potential she saw for a transformative educational experience. Williams’ response to her was encouraging.

“We’re expecting excellence of you, but that’s because we know you can achieve it.”