These days, many people think that historically black colleges and universities are not as relevant as they were when they came into existence over 100 years ago. In fact, many people believe that HBCUs should not only be for African Americans and should become more diverse. I say they are wrong. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) continue to play a huge role in the African-American community.
It’s true that HBCUs no longer are the only options for African-Americans who want a higher education. For many years, African Americans were tormented and beaten for even being able to read and write, let along pursing a higher education. They were brainwashed into believing that the only thing they were worth living for was working on some white man’s plantation other than receiving and education.
Predominately white institutions (PWIs) did not admit students of color. That is why HBCUs originally were created and thrived. The first HBCU to be established, Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, was founded in 1837 to help provide descendants of African slaves with a standard education.
According to the US. Department of Education, there are still more than 100 hundred HBCUs in the nation and more than 300,000 students enrolled in those institutions. While they are no longer the only option for African Americans, many see them as the best option.
“Ever since I was in high school I just knew that I was going to attend a HBCU and not a PWI school,” said Leah Waldo, a junior at Saint Augustine’s University. “I just felt like an HBCU is where I belong to receive my education, not just because I am a woman of color but also because I wanted to be in a place where I knew my ancestors had built a foundation for others to pursue an education.”
In the late 1980s, there was a resurgence of support for HBCUs as a new appreciation for them was instilled in young African Americans through popular culture. This renewed excitement around HBCUs paralleled the beginning of the hip-hop era, films Spike Lee’s “School Daze” that were set within an HBCU and the popular TV show “A Different World” set in the fictional HBCU Hillman College.
“Watching A Different World and The Cosby show was a reason why I attended a HBCU,” said Samara Jordan, a senior at Clark Atlanta University. “It gave me hope that it is possible for a inner-city kid from New York to someday become a doctor or a lawyer.”
I personally believe that HBCUs need serious retooling but some those who continue to question if the schools are still necessary are not well versed in the historical and present-day experiences of black people. The role of HBCUs in building up black youth in society in which authorities gun down and incarcerate too many black youth down with little consequence can’t be overestimated.
Rather than ask if HBCUs are necessary, a better question might be, “Where would black students go if there were no HBCUs?” If there were no public HBCUs in North Carolina, for example, would the University of North Carolina or North Carolina State University significantly increase black student enrollment and give opportunities to students currently attending the state’s five public HBCUs?
Probably not. For many black students HBCUs are not only the best option but they still may be the only option.