Los Angeles Two-Year College Students Aim High By Considering HBCUs

I attended the Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC) and Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc. Transfer Fair, April 29, 2015.

Panelists discussed the pride of the HBCU experience at the College Transfer Fair held at LASC, a two-year college.

The discussion about HBCUs comes at a time when alumni from black colleges and universities are taking leadership roles on a variety of initiatives including programs promoting fatherhood, as well as programs promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In addition, after having contributed significantly to the funding of HBCUs during the early portion of his presidential administration, President Obama’s administration has also increased scrutiny of a variety of colleges and universities, including HBCUs. Graduation rates and budget spending are of particular interest, according to an article by The Washington Post.

The Obama administration is in the midst of a higher education reform which currently includes a proposal for providing two free years of community college to students.

In, addition to increased focus on HBCUs at the Federal level, private industry is paying increased attention to HBCUs. This is evidenced by a recent article stating that Google has established mentorships with several HBCUs.

Panelists at the two-year Los Angeles Southwest College and AKA Sorority Transfer Fair connected with students interested in a high-quality education with an African American cultural and intellectual experience.

The panel featured five individuals who elected to begin their college experience at an historically black college or university (HBCU). The panelists spoke to a group of students interested in various fields of study including nursing and music. While the program was mostly focused on celebrating HBCUs, other presentations focused on legal issues as well as career preparation. For instance, there was a presentation from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office called “Know Your Legal Rights — Legal Savvy”. This presentation taught the “Dos and the Don’ts” of interacting with law enforcement officers. In keeping with the legal theme, there was also a presentation of “Human Trafficking” by a member of the LAPD. Other presentations focused on college and career preparation with STEM education being a central part of the school-to-career path.

Panelists on the “HBCU/College Experience Panel Discussion” could not contain their enthusiasm for higher education, in general, and black colleges and universities in particular.

Panelists Juanita Dawson (Grambling State University), Gimel Rogers (Spelman College), Kwame Dow (Lincoln University) Dr. George Taylor (Tuskegee University), and James Reed (Norfolk State University) were unified in the support for the HBCU experience. All said that they gained an appreciation for academic rigor by taking courses from professors who were from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds. Panelists educated audience members about the various ways that HBCUs contribute by inspiring students to not only continue their education, but to also become part of a legacy of active, nationally-recognized alumni, many of whom are involved in philanthropic missions.

Dawson spoke about the sense of community that HBCUs are famous for fostering, Rogers spoke about the HBCU experience as one that historically provided a foundation for entry into Ivy League and other elite, predominantly white, research and professional institutions.

Dow spoke about making the decision between New York University and Lincoln. A child of Guyanese immigrants living in The Big Apple (New York), Dow wanted a different experience. So, he chose the HBCU with the longest history, the alma mater of many luminaries including the great poet Langston Hughes, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and leader of Ghana and the Gold Coast Kwame Nkrumah.

Taylor spoke about first learning of what would later become his alma mater when he was a child of six and saw a decorative spoon in his parents’ kitchen drawer celebrating the founder of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington. Noticing that the spoon was different from the others, he asked his mother a variety of questions about it and that naturally led to a discussion of Tuskegee.

The panelists noted that some HBCUs are public, while others are private. In addition, the schools may have different majors and strengths. One common bond between the various types of institutions, though was feeling as though their presence, as human beings, mattered. For example, Taylor spoke about attending Tuskegee Institute (later, University) during a time in the history of our nation when African Americans struggled for equal rights. Because the institution was private, there was an understanding that State policies that did not recognize the dignity of African Americans, would not apply at Alabama-based Tuskegee.

During the Q&A (Question & Answer) period, students inquired mostly about majors. The panelists urged the students to study a variety of schools, public and private in order to find a school that best served their needs.

Los Angeles Southwest College may be one of the early community colleges to provide such access to a diverse group of HBCU-panelists. It remains to be seen whether information-sharing between HBCUs and two-year colleges such as LASC will become the norm. However, two-year college students interested in a rigorous, yet nurturing college, or university, experience would do well to include HBCUs on their list of institutions of higher learning.