A Terrible Thing to Waste
Saturday, I had the pleasure of having a potluck with my line sister and some of her friends. I, admittedly, was a little resigned about hanging out with a group of strangers on one of my few free weekends in B'more. But I am glad I went. It is rare, that I get to to be in a room full of fun, engaging, driven folks sitting around drinking, talking loud, and eating good food.
Plus, it gave me plenty of fodder for here and over at the crib.
As usual, when you get a bunch of educated and motivated black folks in the room, the topic of the value of an HBCU education versus that of a "mainstream" university comes up. And, as usual, the conversation can be somewhat contentious.
Lots of the pro-HBCU arguments centered on the perceived "support" a black student gets at a black school--curfews, rules, etc. Most of the "anti-HBCU" argument focused on the "real-world" and "facility issues" at HBCU's. Same argument I have heard a million times. And though I am usually good at bringing up some salient, fact based points in most debates, the HBCU conversation always gets my emotion to shut my "persuasive argument button" off.
I stand by my conviction that HBCU's are necessary, important and valuable. And this comes from a woman who went to a majority, expensive-ass "elite" school.
And it was a question posed to me by the host of the potluck that got me thinking about why I was so pro-HBCU--on a less emotional level. We had similar times at school and both of us felt no real allegiance or connection to the school or the folks we went to undergrad with. That is when it dawned on me. It simply comes down to "the content of [her character], and not the color of [her] skin"--that is what all of the pro-HBCU arguments really center on. Why? Because black students at a black school simply get to be students—not black students, bearing the “blackness” flag at a majority institution, and are probably better for it.
We can simply look at the data and extrapolate the value of black schools in graduating students from their doors versus majority schools. It seems a misnomer to believe that students who attend HBCU's are "unprepared" and that they "live in a fantasy world." Study after study has shown that HBCU's graduate a greater proportion of successful science-based students. The greatest number of African-American PhD's, engineers, and medial doctors come out of HBCU's. Schools like North Carolina A and T and Florida A and M have stellar reputation when it comes to graduating students in complicated fields as complicated as rocket science (literally). For example, a study by the ETS (those folks who brought you the SAT that you sweated bullets over) has clearly demonstrated the relevance of the HBCU in graduating successful black candidate.
And lets look at diversity recruitment efforts. Companies like Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Kraft, Proctor and Gamble, DuPont, and others, heavily recruit at black universities for both grad level science students and undergrad interns. They are looking for the cream of the crop--and a lot of that crop is at a black school. As a matter of fact, I have 16 black friends who are all engineers (don’t ask me how that happened)—most at the senior project manager level. They all went to HBCU's. Every. Single. One. I have three physician friends who attended HBCU’s—two who did both undergrad and med school at an HBCU.
And lets look at students who go beyond 5 year science programs and onto other professional degree programs. During my MBA tour to 8 top-tier schools across the country, I noticed that approximately 60-70% of black students I met went to HBCU’s as undergrads. Yes, that includes THE Elite University(Haaaavaaarrd). What’s that tell you? And no, they cannot all be exceptions to the rule.
I find it interesting that folks make the "real world" argument about attending HBCU's versus majority schools, and always couch it in terms of the fact that “the world is not all black”. This is quite true. But there is more than enough time through out life for young black folks to combat prejudice and institutional racism for the rest of their lives. Why not go some place where you can simply be a student?
Lets look even further into the experience black students have at majority schools. While I was in school there was significant amount of "self-segregation", for lack of a better term. Me and my cohorts have often lamented about the daily "invisibility" that occurred on respective majority campuses. Unless, some “black issue” comes up, we were all but ignored in the classroom. I don’t know how many times, I and others like me sat in a classroom and have either been asked or felt the need to answer for the “black race”. Its tiring and exhausting. Self-segregation becomes a means to find the space to be yourself--a space that is not often found in the larger university context.
I had the rare opportunity of seeing life as a student at both a majority school and an HBCU. Through, my schools HBCU exchange, I had a chance to go to Bennett College in Greensboro, NC. It was the most influential and positive experience I had as an undergrad. It was such a breath of fresh air not to be the "black girl" in the room. There I was carefree in a way that I was not ever at my “elite” school. I enjoyed being a student. I enjoyed learning. I enjoyed the fact that I was not running to seek the solace of the “black student center”, after feeling the effects of supremacy in the majority class room all day.
When I returned to my school, The difference between the students who were on HBCU exchange and those who had been fighting the good fight at “Elite U” for there entire four years was quite noticeable. The HBCU students had an excellent sense of self and self-worth compared to my cohort. To this day, I have connections with the folks I went to Bennett with and I was only there for a semester. I cannot say the same for any of us who went to Elite or my friends who went to other “Elite’s” (Unless were apart of the “Divine 9”.)
At the end of the day, it really comes down to this for me--self-sufficiency and self worth. Black colleges where of great importance during the abandonment of reconstruction and the years of Jim Crow and are now. They address the “don’t bother us, do it yourself.” mantra conservatives are always purporting and give a student whether from the suburbs or an all black university an opportunity to simply be a student. Black students often slip through the cracks at majority schools—just like in grade schools across the country.
As usual, anything "black" is construed as worth less. When are we going to decide to support institutions that have always supported us. Black schools graduate high numbers of successful African-Americans--theologians, influential politcal leaders, doctors, lawyers, you name it. Yet, so many of us sit around and say they are not "legitmate" If it is good enough for Dr. King, its good enough for me.
And for all of these reasons, I will put my money where my mouth is.