Disclaimer: Before reading this, I would like you to take a step back from all emotions and preconceived notions. My intentions are to enlighten, reform and inspire. No criticisms. No generalizations.
During my first year out of college, I taught high school math in the Desire projects of the 9th Ward of New Orleans, La. All but one of my students were black. As one of three black teachers and the only alum of a Historically Black College & University (HBCU) on staff, I felt that it was my responsibility to share my love for and experience at a HBCU, while debunking any myths that misrepresent these institutions. Below are common stereotypes of HBCUs and the reality (or falsity) behind them.
Myth 1: HBCUs are “party schools.”
Let’s get this out of the way first. Every college and university is a “party school.” It is college after all. Second, college teaches you about choices. You get out of it what you put into it. If you only attend class and study all the time, you will earn great grades. However, if you often skip class for social activities [or just to sleep], you will, most likely, be unsuccessful in college. But it is all a choice.
My closest group of friends and I met our freshman year of college and trust me when I say this - we enjoyed the social life and partiedhard. We also graduated with high academic honors and a great amount of resume-worthy achievements. The difference was that we knew how to handle our business. We were able to play hard because we worked hard by prioritizing our time and tasks. This will determine one’s success, regardless of the school they are attending.
Myth 2: HBCUs do not prepare its students for diversity in the “real world.”
To address the obvious, most HBCUs have more black people than any other ethnicity, but what is the difference between predominately white institutions (PWIs)? They are calledpredominately white for a reason. The fact of the matter is that institutions of higher learning are supposed to prepare students for the world, period. Not “the man’s world," “the white man’s world” or any other closed-minded analogy. People, in general, need to learn how to interact with people…in general. Stop making issues about race, when it just needs to be about humanity.
As for academic preparedness, our schools would not be thriving businesses if they were not meeting and exceeding the expectations. The beautiful thing about HBCUs is that you are not a number in a classroom. Professors know your name and the school has the resources that you need to get the most out of your time and money spent there.
Along with these academic resources are strong alumni networks that actually interact and invest in the current students. HBCUs are a “family affair.” Of course the campus has school pride, but outside sports and step show rivalries, we are genuinely happy to meet students and grads from other HBCUs. It becomes an extended family, and as a result, our social and professional network is a force to be reckoned with, undoubtedly.
Myth 3: Potential employers judge and, oftentimes, undervalue HBCU degrees.
You cannot do anything about this, until you reach the interview stage. HBCUs taught me that in order to get the job, I would have to prove myself. Nothing is granted or guaranteed. A “foot in the door” was an international competition, so I was (and am) always sure to bring my A-game. I needed them to know that they needed me.
On another note, I am not sure if anyone else picked up on this during his or her HBCU experience, but there seemed to be a “process” for everything (athletes, Greeks, modeling troupes, etc.)! For the most part, you start at the bottom and work your way up (I know your minds just jetted off to the song…bring it back, babes). In my professional opinion, the following characteristics are what I know will help anyone succeed in the adult world. The first four should be established prior to college and the last four should be developed and honed while in college:
Common Sense Competency
Now that I am on the other side, training and teaching interns, my eyes have been opened. Some of these undergrads coming from PWIs are not as prepared as they should be. Not only are they lacking basic skill competencies, but some can be so entitled that certain jobs are “beneath them” and they lack the courtesy, determination, and perseverance to get the job done, regardless of how they feel about it. I know that this does not apply to all products of PWIs; all I am saying is that the playing field is equal if you embody the eight traits above and hustle.
Myth 4: HBCUs enroll under-qualified, ill-equipped students and are simply giving them an opportunity to earn a higher education.
Umm, is this a bad thing? Some HBCUs (particularly state schools) do provide some opportunities to students who may not have been on the “straight and narrow” to college. Perhaps we should be praising these universities for investing in, uplifting and empowering those who simply want to do better in their lives. Or is “looking on the bright side” too heavy a task to request?
Last point: I would gamble to say that, at the very least, 90% of the students who decided to attend a HBCU did not have to be there. I am sure they applied to multiple schools and most were accepted to a few, if not all, of them. The interesting thought is why? Why did they choose a HBCU over a PWI? Personally, I applied to five schools (two HBCUs and three PWIs) and was accepted into all of them. I was offered scholarship money from each and did campus tours as well. North Carolina A&T State University was my home as soon as I stepped on the campus with my mother. It just felt right and offered everything I wanted, plus more.
Overall, all I want is for people to stop limiting themselves to one way of thinking. It is not "us" against "them." We are not victims. Instead of race, care about humanity; getting a professional degree over where someone earned their degree; working to make the world a better place rather than reaching for self-glorification and greed. It is not all about you or me, it is about us and we!
I want to know your opinions. Why did you choose to attend or not attend a HBCU? What is your opinion of HBCUs? How has it impacted your life? Talk to me, people! :-)