Friday, September 19, 2014

Published 10:53 AM by with 3 comments

The REAL HBCU Experience: Real Love?

I recall being in the 8th grade and talking to my parents about college. Both attended HBCUs – my father’s family has a history of attending WSSU and becoming teachers or administrators. There experiences led to an expectation that I, too, would attend that HBCU and hopefully become an educator. Imagine the hurt and surprise when I told them I wanted to attend UNC-Chapel Hill – I wanted to be a Tarheel! While they didn’t like it, they supported me. When I finally got my acceptance letter, they began to prepare me for college life – white college life. In a last ditch effort, my father asked me to attend a HBCU tour.

I did.

And my mind was blown.

The (Bloody) Mu Psi chapter of Omega Psi Phi stepped... I will never, ever forget being on the steps of Williams Cafeteria in Holland Bowl watching them step. They were amazing. While my family is full of Greek Letter members, I had never quite seen this. They. Were. Amazing. Did I say that? At that moment, my heart changed. I wanted to be an Aggie. I had to attend! My father, was heartbroken and happy at the same time. I hadn’t chosen his school, but I did choose from the HBCU network.

I won't speak on my grades or path to graduation, but I do recall the safety, the learning, the growth of those years. While there, I thought things would always be the same...

Americans always amaze me. In our arrogance, we believe things will always be the same – there will be some semblance of what was. Americans believe there will always be an America. Worse, African Americans believe there will always be HBCUs – especially their beloved school. I’m not so sure.

I attended and love, North Carolina A&T State University. At the time, we only had about 4 thousand students. There were more men than women. When walking across the yard, there was no end to the lovely men seen going to class, creeping into dorms, working out, or just simply chillin’. It was nothing to sit on the strip in front of the bookstore (then owned by the school) and simply people watch. In watching, friendships were born. F’s were made as were memories. Going to NCAT, I quickly made lifetime friends, learned to love myself; my culture – and to boast our Greatest Homecoming On Earth (GHOE). It trends annually on Twitter and other social media outlets. Last year at GHOE, I become blatantly aware of something: several new students are no longer Black. I saw Asians. I saw white people – they were there before, but now, they were there AND celebrating GHOE with us; but in their own way.

Blink

When I began to question this and talk about this, several of my friends thought it was progressive; thought the acceptance of diverse cultures would enhance the learning environment; the school. I disagree. I understand several HBCUs are struggling. A&T has seen its days of lean budgets and low enrollment. Our alumni base is one of the strongest. But I could not help feeling that every time ‘we’ diversify, ‘we’ get lost in the cause. HBCUs were created for us. While now, we have the choice to attend other institutions, the data reflects HBCUs are 3-4% of the higher ed population, but graduate more than 17% of the higher ed population. In that 17%, more go on to receive Master’s and PhD’s at greater rates than their counterparts who attended Traditionally White Institutions. (((GASP)))

Many may consider me racist or purist, or a separatist, but I consider myself a protectionist. (I made that word up).

HBCUs have long been thought the baseline of education – a safety net for people who couldn’t get into other or better colleges. That wasn’t my experience. My professors – mostly white and African, forced me into greatness. They saw potential and created engaging work that propelled me, and others, into working with great fervor to produce excellence. As a teacher, I was taught how to educate masses with nothing. My counterparts and I were dedicated to helping each other – working together, drinking together – graduating together.

The emergence of international students hurts. It hurts because they are slowly becoming the majority. As African American high school students are taught and led into TWIs, the HBCUs are struggling to attract students. So instead of attracting local, out-of-state, and transfer students, the admissions efforts have reached across the oceans. They skipped various places in Africa, the Caribbean, and other brown places, and went straight to China. Instead of taking the risky brown boy, the non-traditional white boy is recruited. These efforts are applauded.

But what about us?

What about our history?

They argue ‘historically’ means our history is steeped in being black and for black – but current day, we have to step outside that model.

Huh?

My history has shown every time we step outside of that model, we lose us. The Civil Rights Movement was not titled that – it was changed to be more inclusive and as a ‘feel good’ to power brokers. In being civil, we have the women’s movement, the gay movement, the atheist movement – anything that is ‘civil’ has come from our struggle for equality... but we still aren’t equal. As we progress, we are attracted to things outside of us – and leave our things in ruin.

It is a sickness.

While several are applauding the increased diversity; inclusion of different students, I do not. It is not out of hate, but protection. If WE don’t attend, then who? If WE don’t protect, then who? These institutions are banners of our history, our fight to be educated. Now they are fighting to thrive, stay alive and remain relevant. The only way HBCUs can remain is with our support.

3 comments:

  1. This is a great reminder. I think we've all been inundated with negative news for the past few weeks and months... pulling back and being aware of how we're interacting with others is a good thing.

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  2. Amen... we have to protect our schools...if we dont who will?

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  3. HBCU's have never been segregated, and have always admitted qualified students regardless of race, except in places where the existing laws prevented race mixing. Now is not the time to take on the worst characteristics of our would be oppressors. Further, don't over-empower a few white and Asian students. If the culture of our institutions is strong, it will remain so. No amount of Black students will make Mount Holyoke into Spelman.

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