Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I Chose an HBCU

I recently read an article that asked the question, "Do We Still Need HBCUs?"

If you had asked me this question prior to 2003, I would have boldly proclaimed, "No! We's all free, now!"
Thankfully, I know better now. How did I go from AntiHBCU to Faithful Howard Alum and Donor? Glad you asked.


HBCUs are not for everyone. Just like every man doesn't look good in skinny jeans, the HBCU setting isn't a conducive learning environment for all.This isn't an argument that HBCUs are better than PWIs. It simply comes in response to people who fail to see the advantages of attending an HBCU!

Why Did I Go to Howard?
I was an Army brat and attended a whole lot of schools growing up. The single common denominator: My peers = all white bricks . I worked hard to get out of state scholarships because I attended high school in South Carolina, and I knew I wouldn't last in a place that offered one sushi place in the entire county, sweet tea that reminded me of syrup, and a stubborn pride in any and everything Strom Thurmond. I was blessed to be accepted everywhere I applied. When my mom bribed me with gas for my purple Altima, I decided to check Howard out. After all, what's the harm in a visit? I was already memorizing the NY Public transit system, and had made a non-refundable (darn it!!!) housing deposit for Columbia U.

Weekend at the Mecca
I landed on Howard's campus on Thursday in the middle of a snow blizzard. The very last weekend of February and the first couple days of March. I'm thinking "Snow in March!?!?" However, more importantly, it was the 1st time I was surrounded by Blacks who were serious about their education. Talking with them I was humbled. They gave shining reviews of Howard and its ability to attract the strongest minds from across the world. I gingerly asked during a Q and A, “is it tough to get a job with a Howard degree?” The recruiter responded, “Ma’am, are you interested in working for a company that doesn’t recognize that Black institutions are perfectly capable of producing well-educated graduates?” I was stunned into silence. I knew Howard was where I needed to be.

Perks of an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) versus a PWI (Predominantly White Institution)
  • The pressure's gone. When you say something stupid in class, you're not making Black people in general look bad. Just people from Chicago.
  • Although more than 2/3 of the world can be defined as "people of color" or "brown people", in America, especially in corporate settings, blacks are the minority. At an HBCU, you are the majority, and for many it's the first time. The confidence one gains from being part of a majority even for 4 5, 6, 8 even years, is remarkable. And believe me, you carry that air with you beyond the campus. It's not pompous, but not to be cliche or too Jesse Jackson, you really believe I Am Somebody! Everyone needs a chance to be a part of the majority to see how white people, particularly, WASP men feel every day.
  • Quick Test. What's the capital of Spain? The capital of France? The capital of Switzerland? I bet you got at least 2 out of 3 right. Ok now... what's the capital of Nigeria? Ethiopia? Kenya? I'm willing to bet that was a little tougher. The American education system has done a great job at educating us about Western civilization and what they've got going on, and a horrible job at teaching us about Africa. HBCUs to the rescue! My professors found a way to throw some Black History in philosophy, literature, and even calculus! It was needed. We learned their history from K-12. Now for OUR history.
  • You learn the diversity that is... Black people. We listen to John Legend, John Coltrane and John Mayer. We hail from Marcy Project, Prince George's County, MD, Kenya, Poland, Belize, and the Bay. We skateboard, freestyle, pontificate, design buildings, teach generations, chemically engineer (whatever that means), and write web pages. We are not a monolithic culture. To those who question the diversity of Howard, because most of us have brown skin, I ask that they click here.
  • While learning our diversity, you also learn about our common struggle in finding Bibles with a Black Moses for our children and finding hair products in our suburbs' CVS.
  • 1st round draft picks for quota fillers. Say you're a prestigious law firm in New York, and you need to hire at least 3 minorities to keep the feds off you. Where will you find 3 qualified minorities at the top of their class? If you look hard, you'll find them at Harvard or Columbia. Or... you can go to Howard, and choose from your pick of dozens of qualified Black (female and male) candidates. It happens all the time.
  • You become friends with folks based on a common interest, not a common color. At my high school, all of us Blacks knew each other and were for the most part friends. Did we like all the same stuff? Maybe, maybe not. But we stuck together, because we were 7% of the school, and were instantly drawn to each other's Blackness. Just like, as adults when you see another Black person in a grocery store in a white neighborhood, you give them the nod. At an HBCU, you become friends with someone because you both like... I don't know... organic food. It's a more organic, if you will friendship, relationship.
  • Homecoming. That's it.
  • The faculty is genuinely vested in your future. My professors at Howard were strict like a tough parent. 10 minutes after class began, if you were late, you weren't coming in. But they also called or expressed concern if you missed a few classes. I was invited to many of my professors' homes, offered a real home-cooked meal from one of my favorite theatre professors, and to this day, the former chair of the psych department is available to dole out advice to me. It's a family atmosphere. They'll be tough because you need it, but supportive because you need that too.
  • The Huxtables will appreciate you. Bill Cosby was a huge fan of wearing Howard and other HBCU paraphernalia. And who doesn't want to be like the Huxtables!?!?
I definitely believe there are perks to attending a PWI, (like on time registration). I also recognize the disadvantages to attending an HBCU. I believe all of those things are overrepresented in these conversations however, and that the perks of an HBCU should be highlighted. Did I miss any? What are your thoughts?