April 23 marked the one year anniversary of Beyoncé's Lemonade a visual album that paid homage to the journey of black women’s pain, struggle, perseverance and overcoming. The anniversary of Bey reminding us to turn our lemons into lemonade came with celebration and rightfully so. Along with releasing new anniversary products on her website, Beyoncé had something else up her sleeve. She released the news that she would be picking "formation" scholars. Initially, I was amazed because is there anything that Bey can do that will make me not love her even more? As a creative, I was even more ecstatic because the scholarship will be awarded to one female student, incoming, current or graduate, pursuing studies in creative arts, music, literature or African-American studies. I think that it’s especially amazing that she's choosing creatives and historians, fields that some people unwisely tend to overlook. As I read on, I saw that there was a stipulation on where the student had to attend school.
Bey's school choices for scholarships were Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parson School of Design and Spelman College. I can't lie and act like my heart didn't drop and I didn't think "well, what else is new" when I saw Spelman and Howard as the HBCU options.
Now, before the Beyhive comes for my head, this is not about where Beyoncé chose to give her money, it is her money after all. It’s also not about bashing Spelman or Howard which are two prestigious institutions in the black community and otherwise. However, Beyoncé's choices did spark a conversation that I believe needs to be had.
HBCU elitism is definitely a thing.
Having plenty of friends who attend these two institutions, I didn't want to be a hater so I kept quiet on the subject. However, checking my Twitter timeline, I saw that some people felt the same sentiments that I did.
Beyoncé is everything. But I'm going to need for public figures to realize that Howard & Spelman aren't the only HBCUs in America.— Justin M. (@justinalexanduh) April 25, 2017
In hindsight, I believe she chose four extremely prestigious schools, leveling the playing field by choosing two HBCUs and two PWIs. However, here's the thing, when celebrities and big corporations constantly magnify the same institutions that have more notoriety, it influences the idea that name equates success. There is and probably always will be an academic hierarchy, but to those of us who attend smaller HBCUs it adds to the idea that success is based solely on a name; something that isn't always true. It's not to say that students who attend these schools aren't deserving of the opportunities they are presented with, however, in turn, it can limit the presentation of opportunities for students who attend other institutions. HBCUs as a whole are cash-stricken so it gets frustrating when the same publics receive the majority of capitalization.
Beyond just a capitalism standpoint, there is a known attitude of elitism held by some that goes beyond school pride. I'm all for being proud of your institution, and rivalry is a part of the experience, but the success of one institution doesn't discredit the abilities and success of another. There are great products coming from other HBCUs every day, and it would be amazing if other HBCUs got the credit they deserve.
All in all, as an HBCU advocate, my hope is that more HBCUs get the funding, scholarships, representation and access to opportunities that we all deserve. However, that starts with corporations looking beyond what is commonly known in order to diversify. The HBCU pool is filled with amazing talent that often time gets untapped because of where and what we deem credible.