To HBCU, or Not to HBCU? A popular question

HBCUs are “not realistic in terms of teaching Black students what they need to know to be able to function in the real world.”

This morning I conducted an interview with a young lady for a student worker position within my office. During the interview she was asked to provide what she thought were some issues that college students face during their first year. She provided the obvious and popular responses of homesickness, adjustment, and potential financial issues. Then she stated that one of the interesting issues to her that she doesn’t think that many people consider are that not all students have support from family or friends “back home” when they go off to college. She also provided personal experience of this stating that she knew some people, who have parents that felt college was a waste of time because they needed to be working to help the family, or they worked during high school to help their families and now they would lose that support. Then she went on to say that in her personal experience, she faced opposition from both family and friends for making the decision to attend an PWI (predominately White institution) instead of an HBCU. She said that she felt HBCUs were ok, but “not realistic in terms of teaching Black students what they need to know to be able to function in the real world.” The interview continued, and she went on with her day, but I was left perplexed by her comment….

Though I know that these ideas about HBCU are not new (I have been hearing the same arguments for years), I was surprised to see that people, especially young people still felt this way…She is 19, and is going into her sophomore year in college. She is from a very urban environment and attended a high school that was predominately Black and Hispanic…it would seem that if that environment was “realistic” enough to prepare her for the “real world” of college….why would an HBCU not provide the same? It is one thing to make these comments and hold these opinions if one has spent some time as a student or completed a degree at an HBCU, but it is another to not have actually had the experience, and still feel this way. I think what is a present is a very close-minded and limited outside perspective. The problem with this is I truly believe that many of these ideas are being passed down from adults to children, and they never even consider attending and HBCU, or the benefits of what it can do for a Black man or women matriculating into adulthood.

There is a valid reason why HBCUs were created and while they still exist. This reason is deeply rooted in history and should be taught as a part of the culture, heritage, and history of Black (or African American) people. The positive side and the cultural preservation of HBCUs will continue to be relevant and important as long as higher education exists and there is a need to educate Black people in a traditional academic setting. After the interview, I walked her to the elevator and inquired more about her perspective. As she got on, I smiled at her and told her about the pride I have in my HBCU experience as an undergraduate student and reminded her that all people are different and young Black people are in need of diverse experiences in more than one way. My education and time spent at an HBCU was a diverse experience for me. I was thrown into an environment that was actually very different than that of my upbringing, but I was challenged and I learned and grew. As far as my preparation for the real world, I NEVER would have survived graduate school at a large HBCU, been prepared for a career in Higher Education, or learned the values of networking and social capital if I did not attend an HBCU. For some people it is an experience that is needed and can be beneficial, and for others being immersed in a PWI environment can help them as well. The thing that people need to remember is not to force or influence anyone one way or the other. Teach them both sides, and allow them to decide which is best for them without bias.

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