“They (HBCUs) are the campuses where a people were educated, where a middle class was built, where a dream took hold. They are the places where generations of African-Americans have gained a sense of their heritage, their history and their place in the American story.” — President Barack Obama, “You’ve Got a Partner in Me” speech in 2010)
Never has the relevance of those words rang truer than today. Now is a time when young black women and men are faced with a struggling socio-economic future in an ever-increasing divide between law enforcement, underfunded urban high schools, and the persistent racial graduation gap between whites and blacks. Many in our community once again look to our HBCUs as a source of hope.
Although these challenges seem insurmountable, the HBCU has been a constant conduit for students that would and could not have been considered at a traditional white institution. Not only was this due to race relations but it was also, in many cases, due to a lack of preparedness for black students. We shouldn’t forget that it was only 53 years ago that James Meredith was the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi and on the day he entered the university he had to be escorted by U.S. marshals for his own protection. Many of our most notable and influential leaders and professionals of African descent have been prepared by HBCUs. In Karin Chenoweth’s article Black Issues in Higher Education, published in 1997, she discusses the study made by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) illustrating how HBCUs prepare black students better for careers in science and math.
“The ETS is about to issue a study that says that HBCUs do a better job than traditionally white institutions in several areas — most notably in steering African American students into the fields of engineering and the hard sciences, and in shepherding them into and preparing them for post-baccalaureate study.”
Through a plethora of studies conducted by the ETS, results prove that HBCUs continue to foster the growth of African-American students in a modern and developing world. HBCUs are institutions which best provide the resources and learning environment for black students from any background to flourish.
The pressures and prejudices are quite palpable for black students on white campuses. It cannot be denied that going to a white college for most black men and women will be extremely difficult today. I attended a mostly-white private high school, and although my experience was an overall positive one, my black classmates and I could not escape the basic prejudices and scrutiny of our peers, as well as our teachers.
I had been accepted to several private and state predominately white institutions. The significance of attending an HBCU was something that was important to me and my family because of all the paramount milestones in African-American history made through HBCUs. This history will lead you back to our first educational institutions established for black students. It’s unfortunate that the HBCUs are not regarded by more African Americans as a beacon toward unified success. We, as college students, should not turn our backs on the HBCUs that have traditionally given our forefathers the opportunity for a stellar education other colleges would not.
Although there is an apparent decline in interest for HBCUs in the black community and a dismal 42 percent graduation rate for African Americans overall, it can’t be denied that the 107 HBCUs have given many students opportunities to graduate. Not only do HBCUs deal with a negative stigma, they must also deal with the ongoing issues that plague our communities which have been handed down since the legacy of slavery. Despite these obstacles, HBCUs can lay claim to many accomplishments.
“More than 80 percent of all black Americans who received degrees in medicine and dentistry were trained at the two traditionally black institutions of medicine and dentistry–Howard University and Meharry Medical College. HBCUs have provided undergraduate training for three fourths of all black persons holding a doctorate degree; three fourths of all black officers in the armed forces; and four fifths of all black federal judges. HBCUs are leading institutions in awarding baccalaureate degrees to black students in the life sciences, physical sciences mathematics, and engineering. HBCUs continue to rank high in terms of the proportion of graduates who pursue and complete graduate and professional training.” —US Department of Education, March 1991
The accomplishments made by these African-American students would not have been possible without the support and education they received from their respective HBCUs. The kind of education where your history does not begin with slavery and end with Obama. The kind of education that uplifts, awakens and empowers you. The kind of education that makes you realize our greatness was only interrupted.
HBCUs represent a strong, allied-yet-evolving community. The HBCU has provided a chance for those who need unyielding support to receive it, yet it’s also an environment where we’re surrounded by students and professors who strive for higher learning excellence. It’s indeed a mecca of sorts, ever evolving, struggling and persevering as its students are. To support and protect the very existence of our HBCUs is critical to our continued success as a people. This is why we must give what we can, because educating our youth in these pillars of black education within the United States is imperative to our ongoing success and growth as a people.
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