Put Some RESPECT on Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities
I am a proud Historically Black College and University (HBCU) graduate, daughter of HBCU graduates, and family and friend to many an HBCU graduate. I grew up going to HBCU homecomings, HBCU Christmas concerts, and all that HBCUs had to offer. Was it a given that I would go to an HBCU, no? I applied to HBCUs and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), and got into all the schools I applied to.
Ultimately, I went to an HBCU because they offered me the most scholarship money. I would not say my final selection was my first choice in schools, but, in the end, it was the best choice for me. I may not have seen it then, but I most certainly see it as a mature adult. I applied to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore because they had a graduate program I could apply for in my junior year and start my senior year. I was fortunate enough to get into and start the program but realized the program was not for me and finished my undergraduate degree in biology.
I remember agonizing over this decision in my favorite professor's office, and that professor coaching me along to next steps since departure from the graduate program was definitely unplanned. I hurriedly applied to graduate programs in public health and was accepted into some really great master's programs. I remember being so excited to tell my favorite professor, who is about seven to ten years older than her students, that I got into one of the more competitive programs. You know what this favorite professor of mine did when I told her, she scolded me in the middle of the hallway, asking why I applied for a master's program and not a doctorate program.
You see, those are the kinds of professors you may encounter at an HBCU. I am not saying Black students or other students of color (SOC) do not experience that at PWIs, but I can tell you that is what other HBCU graduates and I experienced. I took a winter session over winter break, and watched my professor's house, the only thing required was to make sure the house was safe and dogs fe. That same professor let me stay there for the summer when they were there.
I say all of the above to say, my HBCU helped mold me into the woman I am today. When I thought I wouldn't be able to compete with my ivy-league classmates in graduate schools, or classmates who had gone to bigger schools with more resources, I could not have been more wrong. Not only was I prepared, but I was also better in some cases. I do not say that as a braggart. HBCUs make you prepared for the world ahead. Prepare you for the knowledge that you may have to work twice as hard for half as much.
Lately, I have been dismayed at the dismissive nature of some of my fellow Black professionals as it relates to HBCUs. I wholeheartedly agree that HBCUs may not be for everyone, and everyone is entitled to guide their educational journey as they see fit. However, to diminish the role of HBCUs in the lives we live today is shortsighted. Black students would not be able to attend the integrated public schools they do today without the foundation laid by HBCU. The middle and upper-middle-class neighborhoods and schools that many Black students live in would not be possible without Thurgood Marshall (Howard University) trying the Brown vs. Board of Education. Martin Luther King (Morehouse College) changed history as a civil rights leader. Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen (Howard University) showed the world that Black people are college-educated and family-oriented. The list of HBCU greats could go on and on.
Do HBCUs have some work to do? Of course, no university is perfect, not even the Ivies that people are always bestowing honors and virtues upon. However, without HBCUs, Black people would be far worse off than we are. Some may say how much worse can they be, well think about life without the progress that civil rights leaders born from HBCUs made. That is how much worse it can be.
You do not have to like HBCUs, think that they are party schools focused on the band, Greek life, and football, but you do have put some RESPECT on HBCUs as venerable institutions, because as sure as the day is long, I can assure you, you wouldn't be able to go to that PWI, and by default go to an HBCUs.
As a full-on adult, not that newly minted graduate of almost twenty years ago, I can genuinely say, attending my HBCU was one of the best things I have done in life. Attending an HBCU allowed me to go to a well-respected graduate program with no debt from undergraduate school. Attending an HBCU allowed me to blossom and become a leader at said graduate school.
I have not always given back to the HBCU that gave so much to me, but going forward, giving back to my alma mater will become a priority because I see how important it is, to not only give back to our HBCUs but also how important it is to encourage our young people to research and consider HBCUs for higher education. Even if a young Black student attends a PWI, that is perfectly fine, but those same students should know the history that allowed them to attend that PWI, without putting down HBCUs significant contributions to history.