Charles, who is a professor of sociology, Africana studies, and education at Penn, says that popular perception “would tell us that I should assume that any Black student that I come across is from an impoverished background, probably a single-parent background, and [has] non-home-owning parents [who] didn't go to college.”

Those kinds of students are at colleges, she says, but they are not the majority. Looking at the level of education of parents, for instance, about a third of the Black students in the research sample were from families where neither parent had gone to college. Another third of the Black students in their sample came from families where one parent had completed a college degree, and a third came from families where at least one parent had an advanced degree.

Charles explores the complex stories of the demographics of what she calls the rising Black professional class in her new book, “Young, Gifted and Diverse: Origins of the New Black Elite.

EdSurge sat down with Charles, who also works on efforts to help first-generation college students at Penn, to dig into her findings and what they mean for education at the recent ISTE Live conference in Philadelphia. (EdSurge is an independent newsroom that shares a parent organization with ISTE. Learn more about EdSurge ethics and policies here and supporters here.)

EdSurge: You’ve long studied the impact of racial segregation on education. What has your research shown you about the impact of school segregation on the experience of Black college students?

Camille Charles: When I went out into the world as a sociologist, I studied urban inequality broadly speaking. And a big thread has always been the impact of racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools.

We know that segregation concentrates poverty. And so for Black people, coming out of segregated circumstances means that they're coming out of neighborhoods and schools that, on average, are experiencing more violence and social disorder on a day-to-day basis than your average white and Asian student. Because what we found is that white and Asian students were really similar in coming from neighborhoods that were more than 70 percent white. And they were more affluent.

What that meant was that when we looked at exposure to violence and social disorder, for example, in their neighborhoods and schools over the course of their pre-college lives, [Black students] were exposed to something like 17 times more violence and social disorder on average than your typical white and Asian student. It also tends to mean that as a consequence, because they might be, [by] income, middle class, but they are not [by] wealth middle class [from families with large amounts of assets and savings], they're experiencing these kinds of upheavals in their own families as well. So even for an affluent Black student, they usually have immediate family members who are not affluent and who are reliant on them.

And so the other piece that we pay attention to is what we call stressful life events. You know, in the last 12 months has anyone in your immediate family died? Have your parents been out of a job or gotten divorced? Has somebody been the victim of violent crime? … And the Black students experience, on average, one stressful life event a year, where the white and Asian students experience, on average, one over the course of college. So the level of stress is higher.

Read the full article about class diversity by Jeffrey R. Young at EdSurge.