On Howard and other HBCUs

25 10 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, this weekend will be Howard University’s Homecoming weekend and trust me, it’s just as grand and fantastic as Biggie and Luda and every one of your other favorite rappers says it is. But ironically, just in time for this great week of fun times and celebration, apparently another article has come out in favor of eliminating HBCUs and mainly discusses the idea that they are no longer useful to the education community.

Now, if you read my rant about HBCUs and misconceptions on diversity over a year ago, then you already know I’m pretty passionate about my Alma mater and other HBCUs in this nation. What’s funny about my passion is that up until my senior year, I never even contemplated attending an HBCU. My high school was very adamant about sending folks to either Ivy League universities, colleges considered right under the Ivy League designation, and if you just had to go somewhere else, then LSU… but that was it. Historically Black Colleges and Universities just were not spoken of, so the most I knew about them, until our college fair senior year, was that Bill Cosby would always wear Howard sweatshirts, Xavier was located at home and one of the only (if not the only) Catholic HBCU, the AUC was a contradiction of itself since neither Spelman nor Morehouse were actually single gender schools even though their enrollments were, and I loved a Different World. That’s it. Nothing else.

Which makes it that much more amazing that 5 of us decided to go to Howard when we graduated, 1 person went to Tuskegee, a few went to the AUC, and a couple folks went to FAMU and Hampton. At that time, it was the highest number of students who’d decided to attend an HBCU from our school and quickly began a tradition that carries today. Now, my high school was and still is the number one school in LA and stays in the top 10 schools in the country, so we didn’t all decide to attend HBCUs because we had no other options. Reading the article in the Wall Street Journal, however, would lead you to believe so.

Not only did the author take every opportunity to lump all HBCUs into one category as if there’s no hierarchy amongst education institutions (which would be like saying there’s no difference between Harvard and your local community college), but he also bases most of his article on studies performed in the 1960s and 70s and makes such profound generalizations as saying that the schools “are inferior to traditional schools in preparing students for post-college life.”

This article fails to mention that Howard produces the most black PhD’s every year and has “one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and culture of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world” in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (according to the HU website), Xavier produces the most black doctors every year, and Spelman, Morehouse, Hampton and FAMU are considered some of the more highly respected schools in this nation. All of these schools are heavily recruited by companies and organizations, and for good reason – those places know that these schools consistently prepare their students for post-college life (a direct afront to one of Mr. Riley’s assertions). I can only speak for Howard, but there wasn’t a week that went by that some major company wasn’t at our school recruiting, whether it was in communications, business, engineering, etc…

But never mind those things for a second. College has never only been about what information you can learn in your classes. When I originally visited Howard and decided it would be the undergraduate school for me, it was mostly because of the atmosphere and experience I could tell I would have. I had the opportunity to visit most of the schools I applied to and none of them gave me the sense that Howard did. From the moment I stepped on the campus, I knew this was home. That kind of feeling can’t be quantified for an article. You can’t turn life experiences into statistics… but I can certainly tell you that I would not be the woman I am if it were not for attending Howard.

And you know who else can say that or make a similar statement? Debbie Allen. Phylicia Rashad. Ruby Dee. Ossie Davis. Thurgood Marshall. Vernon Jordan. Harold Ford Sr. Benjamin Hooks. Kwame Ture. Zora Neal Hurston. Roberta Flack. Donny Hathaway. Taraji P. Henson. Wendy Raquel Robinson. Toni Morrison. Richard Smallwood. Shai. Isaiah Washington. Antoine Bethea. And yes, even La La Vasquez and Diddy… and more! Somehow, I don’t think we all felt like we received an inferior education.

My biggest problem with Mr. Riley’s article is not that he chose to denigrate an entire educational spectrum. It’s that he used the same tired reasons that basically mean black is inferior (of course, in a much nicer way). Had he stepped on either of the top HBCU campuses with an open mind (that can’t be stressed more, as the guy I spoke about in my last rant clearly did not go with an open mind) for even one day, he would have never dared to publish such an article. He’d know the truth, just as President Obama knows, HBCUs are just as important today as they were when they first began. Do improvements need to be made? Sure – every place can be improved. Do they need to be eliminated? No.

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