The Black Illini Experience

Profile of a woman with images in her head

(Image courtesy of 123RF, design by Jen Dahlgren)


When the U of I celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1917–18, there were more fraternities and sororities on campus than Black students.

When the centennial celebration came in 1967–68, there were more student athletes than Black students.

And even today, there are more Ph.D. candidates than there are Black students at the University.*

No matter the decade, Black students have remained underrepresented on campus—a group that feels marginalized because it has been marginalized.

It is a group that pursues higher education in an environment that has historically been stacked against it.

Nevertheless, it is a group that often succeeds, despite the odds.

In this special presentation of Illinois Alumni, we tell the story of that success and those seemingly insurmountable odds—the history of Black student life
at the U of I.

Part One features Black alumni from the past 50 years, sharing their personal stories of victory and struggle and remembering the mentors who helped them along the way. Part Two provides context for those stories, with 20 short articles that highlight the people, places and events that have shaped Black student life over the decades.   

We tell these stories in honor of the thousands of Black alumni who have found the courage and determination to attend this University, in the face of discrimination, hostility and systemic racism, over the past 150 years.
We honor them, as well as the many others who were never given the chance.

* 3,686, or 6.5 percent of the student body