About a month ago, I visited the University of Howard in D.C. for their homecoming with my two closest friends. During their homecoming concert I noticed this sign among all the various club and organizational banners that were spread throughout the field of the concert. At first, the sign made me laugh a little for some reason, but then I started to think about what my college career might have been like had I attended a historically black college like Howard. There is a common debate on social media platforms about predominantly white institutions versus historically black institutions. The debate is so common that it has a name: PWI versus HBCU. People often get worked up when debating this issue given the history of black people and education in this country, and seeing this poster reminded me of the whole ordeal.
As someone who greatly enjoys diversity and being around various types of people, my school seemed like a perfect fit for me when I was fresh out of high school. Even though I do not regret choosing to attend the school I do wish I had given more thought to attending a HBCU, since I pretty much wrote off the whole idea all together for myself. The concept of racial segregation of any sort was anything but appealing to me when applying to colleges. As I have grown and entered my senior year of college, I realize even more the benefits of learning in an environment where people understand you and see the world through a similar lens or at least try. While I have had many great professors, it was not until I changed my major to Sociology that I began to encounter teachers who even acknowledged some of the issues that black students have within the university. The three years prior to the change consisted of classes where I was still one of a few black people, and there was very little diversity among my professors who were mostly white men. Now, I’m not saying that someone must look like me in order to be a great teacher, but I do believe that if a school advertises diversity that it should follow through for their staff as well.
Friends of mine who attend the school as well have had major issues, especially in certain schools of the university like the art school. I have had peers who pay just as much as everyone else in tuition describe discriminatory practices from their professors, and in other schools within the university I know of some teachers who were blatantly assigning lower grades to African American students. It was also in the news recently that a professor called the police on a black woman who was sitting in his office and had been working as his teaching assistant for several months. According the news report she was not causing any danger or disruption to herself or others. I use all these examples not to discredit the professors who do a great job, but to bring light to the fact that black people do need spaces where they are among their own due to negative instances like the ones mentioned. Prior to college I really didn’t understand the HBCU versus PWI debate, but if I ever have children, I want them to acknowledge the circumstances and then decide for themselves rather than writing off the issue all together like myself. I believe that sometimes it can be easier even for minorities to pretend that discrimination doesn’t exist in certain spaces, but it is definitely a conversation worth having especially when it comes to education.