Why Aren’t There More Black and Brown Students Taking Art Classes?

Fredrick Royster
8 min readOct 25, 2023

(A Master’s Degree “Issues In Art Education” Mini Research Paper, Illinois State University

All my life, it has been both invisible and glaring to me; I have always been THE ONLY Black student in almost all of my art education classes, from K-12, to earning my BA in Graphic Design at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and now at Illinois State University pursuing my masters in Art Education.

I grew up in the predominately white, upper-middle class Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, IL where there were only 12 Black students in my graduating class of 250.

Based on the demographics of my home town it made sense why there were almost no black students in my art classes.

I expected to see more black and brown faces in the halls of the Art and Design building at the University of Illinois, with a student body of 56,000 students, but it was no different than what I experienced in Glen Ellyn.

I was the only Black undergraduate graphic design student in the program at UIUC from 1996–1999. There was no one in the years above or below me.

And what was even more sad in my 15 years of working in corporate graphic and web design, I only worked with two other black designers in the Chicagoland area, a city that’s 30% Black.

This begs the question; why aren’t more Black students taking art classes?

The purpose of this mini paper is to examine the complex factors that prevent Black students from taking art classes, including the economic and academic factors, cultural prejudices against art education in the Black community, as well as the focus of public schools on standardized testing, reading, and math scores at the expense of the arts.

Economic Factors Lead To A Lack of Exposure To The Arts For Black and Brown Students

African-American performing arts educator and actress Ilasia Gray has taught thousands of students over the years. She has been repeatedly delighted by the magical experience Black and Brown students have in seeing themselves represented on stage. (Toma, 2021)

Self-affirmation, pride in Black and Latino culture, and self-esteem are not the only benefits Black and Brown students experience from being on stage in theater class, but also the enhancement of creative and…

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Fredrick Royster

Lapsed Web Designer*UI/UX Professional* Electronic Dance Music Aficionado * Chicagoland (except that stint in Croatia!)