I'm Tired of All the Disrespect for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The idea that going to a predominately white institution equals better professors, a better education, and a better chance of getting a job after graduation is inherently racist and untrue.
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Carmen Jones
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The idea that going to a predominately white institution equals better professors, a better education, and a better chance of getting a job after graduation is inherently racist and untrue.

One day I woke up, and Twitter had exploded. A young Black woman had gotten everyone into a tizzy. “A 4.0 at an HBCU is not equivalent to a 4.0 at a PWI,” she tweeted. It really got me thinking. Is this what people thought of HBCU grads? Did they think we had taken the easy way out? I was hurt. Disappointed. Then, I got angry.

The misconception that PWIs (predominantly white institutions) are somehow superior to Historically Black Colleges and Universities is unsettling. The idea that going to a predominately white institution equals better professors, a better education, and a better chance of getting a job after graduation is inherently racist and untrue. Unfortunately, some Black people believe that it's impossible to get a quality education if they're not enrolled at a PWI. But for me, whiteness has never been the standard of success.

Since a small child, it never occurred to me that I should go anywhere else but a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). As an only child, coming from an upper-middle class home, I consider myself cultured. I took ballet, karate, and played soccer. I played tennis, took piano lessons, went to theater camp -- I even took “etiquette classes.” My first trip out of the country was at the age of 13. I think I’m pretty well-rounded.

I was a member of an esteemed organization called Jack and Jill of America. Any Black family who made a little money, and wanted their children to grow up to “be somebody” had a membership. It was invite-only, of course. 

In middle school, I was the only little Black girl in the “gifted program.” I met the requirements, but I was not selected to be a part of the program until my parents visited the school and caused a fuss. I was more than qualified. I’m sure other Black students there were too.

I received numerous awards for my writing in elementary school. I won awards for excelling in the Accelerated Reader program. I went on to graduate from a private High School for “gifted students.”

I remember being told I “acted white.” At the time, I didn’t really understand what that meant.

As my senior year neared, I never had a doubt in my mind that I would be going to a Historically Black University. My father is a military veteran, who also happens to have a Ph.D. My mother is a Systems Analyst for the U.S. government, and she has a Master’s in Economics. They both attended Virginia State University. Growing up in such an enriched environment, there was never a question that HBCUs produced successful, career-oriented people. It had never occurred to me to go anywhere else.

I grew up watching shows like A Different World and The Cosby Show. The characters were doctors, lawyers, and engineers. One of my favorite comedians, Martin Lawrence, would sometimes wear a “Howard” hoodie during his show. To me, it couldn’t be more obvious where I should go to undergrad. I never wanted to go to a predominately white institution (PWI). I didn’t see why I should.

In case you’re wondering, I’m a proud graduate of Howard University. There, I met some of my best friends, made some awesome connections, created some incredible memories...and oh yeah, I actually learned stuff.

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Lately, I’ve been getting the sense that people don’t think students actually LEARN at HBCUs. I hate to break the news, but we don’t major in Spades, Twerking or Partying in undergrad. We have real majors, we take real tests, and we get real jobs after graduation. Check our resumes.

According to the NIH, the nation's top 10 producers of undergraduates who go on to earn doctorates in science and engineering are historically black colleges. Nearly half of the nation's top 25 best colleges and universities at producing eventual black Ph.D. graduates, public school teachers and professionals are historically black institutions.

Let’s be clear, HBCUs admit students that PWIs aren’t taking, and it’s not because their futures aren’t promising, or because they are incapable of achieving. PWIs are not always affordable. That reduces the chance of poor or middle class students being admitted. 

Secondly, over the last 20 years, PWIs have just begun to prove that they’re doing a good job at actually graduating minority students in large numbers. Thirdly, in a report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) it was revealed that HBCU graduates ARE top tier students. Many of them going on to pursue graduate and professional degrees in STEM, law, and medicine at Harvard, Penn, Yale, Berkley, Duke, the University of Georgia, the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins and other top-ranked universities. 

It was also found that African American students who attend an HBCU are more likely to go on to graduate or professional school than African American graduates from other “traditional” institutions. To me, that doesn’t say that students at HBCUs or HBCUs themselves are inadequate, but really, it says quite the opposite.

But those who oppose HBCUs are right about one thing. HBCUs aren’t properly funded. Last year, the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper talked about how the state inequitably funded its black colleges, while simultaneously duplicating HBCU programs at geographically proximate PWIs in UMBC, Towson University and the University of Baltimore.

I take that personally. The attempt to dismantle our culture and our legacy seems to me like more of an attack on Black, and I don’t like it. The idea that Black people can come together, learn, grow, love one another, and be SUCCESSFUL seems like a foreign concept to some, and that is an insult. HBCUs promote exactly what people say the Black community “needs more of.”

The truth is, I had no desire to be the “token” at a PWI. (Been there, done that.) I don’t want that burden. I had no desire to have to explain various social issues in class to my mostly white peers. I didn’t feel like explaining my hair, I didn’t want to “code switch” -- I simply didn’t want to do that for four years. I wanted my home away from home to feel like HOME, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That doesn’t imply divisiveness, and if it does, you’ll have to make that argument against PWIs as well. It’s also important to note that today, HBCUs have a significant percentage of non-African American student populations consisting of Asian, Hispanic, International and white students. This means that ALL people are benefiting from these schools. For those of you who argue that HBCUs are no longer necessary, because we live in a “post-racial” society, I urge you to pick up a newspaper. Racism is very real, and it exists on college campuses across the nation. (Mainly at PWIs.)

So, I wear my Howard paraphernalia proudly. I have shirts, shorts, hats, cups and license plate frames. Whenever I see another alum rockin’ a shirt, or riding down the highway, I wave or honk my horn. I’m a member of what they call the #OldHoward. And I love it. When I wear my Howard t-shirt, I feel like a star. I feel accomplished. I feel like I matter. I remember our rich history. I remember my experience. My professors. The yard. I remember the sacrifices made by those that came before us. I don’t take my HBCU experience for granted. 

Sure, I could have gone to a PWI, but that isn’t where my heart is. HOME is where my heart is. And at an HBCU, I’m at home. I highly doubt that if I HAD attended a PWI, I’d have this same warm feeling. I am proud of my HBCU, and all of the HBCU’s across the country. Shame on you for trying to convince me otherwise.