Growing up, I attended predominantly white schools. Naturally, I wondered if most black people acted in ways we were portrayed on TV: the sassy sidekick, the mean girl who was deeply insecure, the thug/rapist/murderer, or the girl who was “too proper” to be around others who looked like her.
Ever since the beginning of high school, I had my eye on the University of Georgia. But when I started looking more into it, I found out that it had only a 7 percent black student population. I wanted a school with more diversity, so I asked my parents if they knew of any. Right off the bat, they named Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University — all close to home, all Historically Black Colleges & Universities. As I researched the HBCU culture, I fell head over heels in love. From stroll teams to the Divine Nine to even Drake performing at one of Howard University’s homecoming events, I suddenly felt like I belonged at an HBCU.
While doing my college search, I filled out as much information as I could to really narrow it down to the schools that would have everything I wanted: a four-year program, city setting, East Coast, freshman housing, journalism major, student newspaper, internship opportunities, the possibility to study abroad. But as I went over the schools I decided to apply to with my counselor, it felt as if he was trying to talk me out of applying to HBCUs.
“Let me guess: Spelman, Howard, FAMU? Those schools are really unorganized. They’re just going to take your application fee and not even look at your application. You only need to apply to two or three schools. Let’s try something public and in-state like UGA or Georgia Southern.”
What he said crushed me, but it was partly true; HBCUs have a reputation for being unorganized. From the stories I had heard, many HBCUs lose transcripts, recommendations, or even whole applications. It frightened me a little but it also empowered me to stay on top of my applications, even if it meant calling the admissions offices everyday to make sure things were going smoothly.
Despite my college counselor telling me the horrors of HBCU admissions to steer me away from them, I couldn’t help but remain interested. This past fall, I applied to five HBCUs. I also applied to five PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions) to balance it out. After discussing my decision to apply to both with church members, family friends, and even my boyfriend’s grandmother, I got the same response: Going to an HBCU was the best decision they ever made. Many of them said that they felt more at home at their HBCU and like the faculty and staff cared more about them, while their experiences with PWIs (whether it was part of their undergraduate or graduate schooling) made them feel as if they were a number. I don’t want to be just a number — I want to be somebody. Their advice, coupled with the problems of racism at schools like University of Missouri and Ithaca College, helped me make a decision as to which college I will attend in the future.
The legacy of HBCUs and their traditions have also played a big role in my decision. From “Knuck If You Buck” to swag surfing to the rivalry between Howard University and Hampton University, there are so many traditions that I can't wait be a part of. The amazing alumni also assisted me with my decision: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended Morehouse College, Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple) attended Spelman College, Phylicia Rashād (The Cosby Show) and Taraji P. Henson (Empire) both attended Howard University. I can only hope that by walking in the same hallways as they did that I will become at least half as successful. Watching TV shows like Girlfriends, Living Single, Martin, and A Different World (which is about students at Hillman College, a fictional HBCU based on Howard University while being filmed at both Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College) have also made me excited to be surrounded by people who look like and share the same culture as me.
I want to attend an HBCU because I want to feel like I am surrounded by family. I want to attend an HBCU so I can learn about my culture and my history in a place where history was made. I want to attend an HBCU because I want to live and learn with thousands of ambitious and intelligent black people. I want to attend an HBCU because I want to be around people who understand what it’s like to be black, and not just because they’ve seen episodes of Everybody Hates Chris.
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