The HBCU versus PWI debate has been a long one amongst POC for years. Our generation of Black people and POC may be the ones to put an end to this debate. The conclusion I have seen many come to is that one experience should not invalidate another. During a panel event with Stacey Plaskett, representative for the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and Hank Johnson, representative for Georgia, Representative Hank Johnson put it perfectly: in these times, we need Black people from all walks of life.
When choosing a college many of us may tend to focus more on one aspect. But after my first semester, though location is important, I realized environment is about much more than just parties, entertainment, the surrounding area, and what the people are like. Your environment is a reflection of you, and you are a reflection of it. Your environment can change you as a person; it can affect you emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. 2017 was a year where we really discovered that not only climate change but the political climate of today’s society may have a lasting impact on all of our well-being.
Most Black people and POC will share some opinions on the benefits of going to an HBCU, but each experience attending an HBCU is unique. All these people from all different parts of the world, different walks of life, and different cultural backgrounds come to HBCUs, where they share their history, background, and culture with others. There is magic in that kind of diversity.
I asked a few of my friends about their experiences.
“It’s a microcosm of the world with representation from every part of the African diaspora,” said Kayla, 19, who attends Spelman College. According to her, HBCUs “are rooted in loving Blackness, developing one’s identity as a POC, and promoting a critical consciousness that recognizes that society disregards Black life. Society is deeply rooted in white supremacist, capitalist culture with and emphasis on patriarchy. Also, I personally feel free to be my unapologetic, authentic self for once in my life.” Likewise, 18-year-old Claflin University student Thalia appreciates “not having to constantly defend that part of your identity.”
Howard University student Amber, 18, elaborated: “HBCUs provide a space where Black students can witness success in people who look like them. I feel comfortable at an HBCU because I am not competing to be a top student of color at my school. I’m here to be one of the top students, period. We’re constantly surrounded by our own history and reminders that we can be/have what we want if we work towards it like our predecessors did. We are constantly surrounded by our own beauty.”
Personally, when choosing a school I did not focus on the aspect of diversity too much—I was applying to schools in already diverse, big cities. I just applied to schools that seemed to fit me or that I could get into. After attending Howard University for a semester, however, I can say it is definitely refreshing to be in a space where you can learn and be amongst the diaspora. In the U.S., the media never acknowledges how diverse Black people are, and even many of our own people need reminders. Not every Black person has the same narrative, and we are all multidimensional. At an HBCU, we learn from and about each other, and we learn about other minorities/ethnicities, too. That is something that you can carry with you for the rest of your life, and no matter where you go to school or what you have been exposed to, opening yourself up to other people’s stories is something you should always do.
As far as HBCU culture is concerned, on the other hand… well, don’t get me started.