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The role of the HBCU in the 21st Century

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After graduating from a school where 85 percent of the student population is white, South graduate Miracle Bailey ‘16 is now attending a college that is 93.9 percent black.

“At first it was real hard to transition because I’m used to being in predominantly white schools all my life, so I have never been around this many black people besides my family,” Bailey said.

Bailey is currently attending Hampton University in Hampton Virginia, a historically black university. While few students at South consider attending a historically black college or university (HBCU), Miracle said there are many benefits to attending one.

HBCU’s were born out of necessity. Defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 as, “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964,” these colleges were founded based on the simple fact that blacks were previously denied from attending universities all across America. As a result, black colleges sprouted up all over the country; Spelman, Xavier University, Howard, Morehouse to name just four of the 100 HBCU’s still running in the United States.

Today, the role of the HBCU has shifted. HBCU’s now offer higher education to students regardless of race. Despite the common misconception that only black students attend black colleges, Bailey said there is still diversity at HBCU’s.

“We have a lot of exchange students, and there are white people that go here. They play sports, usually. There’s a lot of white football players,” Bailey said. “There are lot of white people who are in fraternities and sororities, so no, that’s not true at all. And they’re all welcome, they won’t treat you any different.”

In fact, some HBCU’s aren’t even predominantly black. Bluefield State College in West Virginia, an HBCU, is 85.1 percent white, according to U.S. News. HBCU’s have also seen an influx of hispanic students, with an increase of 200 percent in the past decade alone, according to The Atlantic, and those numbers are only projected to increase.

“People emphasize the B and not the H (in HBCU). Some people who are non-black, and may have gone through the same struggle as black people. White people come to challenge their sense of not being the majority,” Spelman admissions counselor Iva Stewart-Barre said.

At the same time however, the emphasis is still placed on the academic success of black students, Stewart-Barre said.

Infographic by Erykah Benson ’17

“When it comes to attending an HBCU the biggest point is that you’re in a place that was created for you,” Stewart-Barre said. “Knowing that everyone that is there is there for you. It’s valuable. To be able to go to a place of higher learning, the ability to go to a place where people look like you, boosts confidence. HBCU’s are there for people of color.”

Bailey said even though most of the students at her school are black, she has discovered diversity within the black community.

“Not every black person is the same. There are Caribbean people, there are African people, they have different accents and they have their own culture within their own city. So seeing that in itself has been a cool experience,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the benefits of HBCU’s still holding this focus on black students is gaining confidence.

“You are surrounded by so many people that look like you and they’re on the same path that you’re on,” Bailey said.

After attending Grosse Pointe Public Schools, where the vast majority of instructors are white, Bailey said she’s never been more exposed to so many black lawyers and doctors before.

“The majority of my professors have been black thus far,” Bailey said. “If you go to an HBCU your professor and your teachers really want you to succeed. I’m happy that I’ve applied to one, and I’d never go anywhere else. It’s just different. The experience overall is just different.”

On top of academic support for minorities, HBCU’s also provide job opportunities for people of color, Bailey said.

Because of these year-round job opportunities, Bailey said she already has an internship for the summer, which is something she said not a lot of freshmen get.

“The benefits of attending an HBCU, especially Hampton, is that a lot recruiters for jobs, they come to HBCU’s looking for you. At a PWI (predominately white institution), recruiters are just looking for the person with the best resume, and of course they do that here as well,” Bailey said. “The companies that come here are looking to diversify their companies. I’ve already gotten a lot of opportunities and exposure to different companies.”

A 2015 study by Gallup reported that in a survey of 56,000 college graduates, 40 percent of black HBCU grads said they are thriving financially, compared to 29 percent of black non-HBCU grads. HBCU grads were also reported to have a better engagement in their career as well.

Bailey is currently majoring in strategic communications with a minor in political science. Her one advice to high school students who are considering to apply to an HBCU is to, like any college, find one that provides the best education for the major the student is interested in.

Infographic by Erykah Benson ’17

“A lot of students want to apply to Howard just because of the name, but you have to look for an HBCU that has what you want to go into,” Bailey said. “Xavier University in Louisiana is good for pre-med. North Carolina A&T is good for engineering, and Hampton University, which is where I am has a really good pre-law program. So just do your research on the HBCU you want to go to.”

Currently, the vast majority of students at South, regardless of race, do not apply for HBCU’s. Naviance reports that in a span of five years, 27 students have applied to HBCU’s at South. Currently, six students are attending an HBCU, Bailey being one of them.

Imani Sugick ‘17 is interested in attending an HBCU, she said. She has applied to University of Virginia, Hampton, Howard University and Spelman.

“I have been in predominantly white schools my whole life, and schools where there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me, so the thought of being able to attend a university where everyone looks like me, and everyone has the same goal, and everyone is there to be excellent and strive to be their best, it’s just an amazing feeling just even think about it,” Sugick said.

While in the past, black students had no choice but to attend an HBCU, black students now have the option of going wherever they want. Sugick said that this has caused HBCU’s to be put on the backburner.

“As far as HBCU’s go, I definitely, definitely would hope that they are brought to more people’s attention because there are, and I’m not even speaking of other races, I know African Americans students who hear the word HBCU and they go ‘what’s that?’, and that’s so sad that they don’t even know what that is,” Sugick said.

Bailey said a stereotype she would like to disprove is the idea that HBCU’s don’t offer the same quality of education as predominantly white schools. Bailey said Hampton, for example, offers multiple job fairs year-round and opportunities to study abroad.

“So don’t think you’ll be limited to anything. The HBCU experience is different, but not unlike any other. And I do encourage black students to considering applying to at least one HBCU,” Bailey said.

Though the role of the HBCU in America has shifted in the 21st century, Sugick said it’s important to raise more awareness about the option of attending an HBCU.

“I just hope that they are able to be given more attention in the future, so people do know that they have that option also, and not just for African American students, but for everyone, also because HBCUs are some of the greatest institutions in the country,” Sugick said.

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The role of the HBCU in the 21st Century