Prior to the American Civil War of 1865, Blacks did not have access to formal higher education opportunities. To address this problem, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were formed. The Higher Education Act of 1965 defined HBCUs as “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans.” Although HBCUs were created to educate Black students, HBCUs admit students from all races and backgrounds and offer a variety of programs that prepare students to contribute to society.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “HBCUs were founded and developed in an environment of legal segregation and, by providing access to higher education, contributed substantially to the progress Black Americans made in improving their status.” Some argue that there is no longer a need for these institutions because Blacks are now able to attend any school they choose.
However, the rate of enrollment for minority students remains stagnant at traditionally private white institutions (PWIs). Many factors exist that could explain why enrollment for students of color at these institutions is low such as:
- racial tension
- poor recruitment efforts
- standardized testing
- lack of minority staff and faculty leaders
Yet, college leaders argue that these issues were addressed due to the affirmative action policies of the 1960’s. They propose that:
- minority students are valued on college campuses
- diversity recruitment officers actively seek, enroll and retain minority candidates
- the entire application, not just the test score is considered for admission
- diversity, merit and academic scholarships are offered to qualified minority candidates
- minority faculty and staff are welcome and encouraged to work at their institutions
Considering this debate and its’ relationship with affirmative action, why are HBCUs still relevant to students?
I decided to ask local HBCU students and graduates why they chose to attend their HBCU. I was thoughtful in this process and chose students who attended a PWI, are recent HBCU graduates and are leaders in their careers.
Ken Carter graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and Psychology. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and 3rd-year Dental Student at Meharry Medical College.
“I attended a PWI, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for undergrad. A large part of my decision to apply to an HBCU for professional school stemmed from my experiences at UW. I am truly appreciative of my time at my Alma mater and the experiences I gained, however, students of color often were socially and culturally marginalized from the rest of the campus. Being in an academically demanding environment paired with the external stress of being a person of color made for a very trying four years. I knew that Meharry Medical College would provide me with a space that would promote an inclusive experience and work to retain students through their four-year matriculation. Meharry is very intentional about providing care to low-income environments and diverse populations, which is something that has always been important to me. Lastly, I wanted to attend an institution that would train me to treat populations that look like me, while receiving mentorship from professors that did as well.” Ken Carter
Crystal Fuller graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology and a double minor in Photography and Visual Arts. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and 3rd-year Dental Student at Meharry Medical College.
“I received my B.A. from Duke University, and I absolutely love my Alma mater. However, attending a PWI as a Black female came with its many challenges. In choosing a dental school, I wanted to attend a school that would not only challenge me academically but one that would also provide a safe space for me to thrive and be successful. Meharry does just that. Meharry is my home away from home, and I truly love my “family” here. As a Meharrian, I feel empowered, loved and respected as a future Black female dentist.” Crystal Fuller
Daniel Hayes graduated from Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education. He is 1 of only 31 teachers from across the country to be designated Music Teachers of Excellence by the CMA Foundation. He was recently promoted to Dean of Students at Nashville Public Schools. He is an education doctoral student at Lipscomb University with an anticipated graduation date of December 2018.
“There are quite a few reasons why I chose to go to Tennessee State University. For one, a large portion of my family attended and graduated from there. My parents, sisters, and significant numbers of cousins, uncles, and aunts are also alumni of TSU. I was basically raised in a TSU environment growing up. Another reason why I decided to go there was that of the band. I love music and TSU is known to have a very good music program. It made a lot of sense for me to go there because it fit the major that I wanted to do (music education) and in doing so I got to be involved with the band. Lastly, I wanted to get the HBCU experience. I went to MLK, a magnet school, and they had a low population of students like me. I had the grades to go anywhere I wanted but I wanted to be around students like me and TSU also made that choice easy for me. That’s pretty much why I decided to attend TSU over other schools.” Daniel Hayes
Tatiana Madrid is a 2018 Tennessee State University Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication, concentration in Integrated Marketing Communications graduate. In the Spring, she plans on attending Georgia State University to get a Master of Arts in Communication.
“An HBCU is basically a safe haven for Black students. We can be ourselves and be around people we relate to. We’re not separated from universities such as UC Berkley that has a “Black Graduation” and the University of Georgia that has a “Miss Black UGA”. We are the majority, which never happens in our life. At TSU, I felt safe, welcomed, and cultured.” Tatiana Madrid
Winter Noelle-Grant is a 2018 Fisk University Bachelor of Arts in Psychology graduate and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She tutors at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy working with gifted and talented youth 7–12th grade. In August, she will begin working as a data analyst for a behavioral health company. In the future, she plans to own a performing arts academy for students interested in visual arts, music, dance, and theatre.
“I chose Fisk University because my mother would not fund my education elsewhere. But more importantly, I felt as if public schools robbed African American and minority students from the truth about their culture. I attended predominantly white public schools before college. Often times, I was the only Black student in several of my classes. I felt as if, I needed to be nurtured academically by people who did not only look like myself, but by individuals who valued Black culture unapologetically. I truly valued my HBCU experience. It was essential to my growth as a Black woman in today’s society. I strongly believe that HBCUs are still relevant and I encourage African American and minority students to attend HBCUs for their higher education.” Winter Noelle-Grant
Students choose HBCUs for many reasons: inclusive culture, the celebration of Black heritage, preparation to serve low-income and diverse populations, to feel empowered and respected, mentorship from Black educators, safe space to thrive, familial environment, academic programs, lineage, and prestige.
Do you believe that HBCUs and affirmative action is relevant in today’s society? How can this discussion help to create policies of inclusion at PWIs? Let’s talk about it.
Carjamin Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on twitter @scottcarjie.
Originally published at carjiescott.com on May 25, 2018.