Here's Why The Myth Of The Unprepared HBCU Grad Is Absolutely Silly
We're ready for the real world.
More predictable than raisins in Karen’s potato salad is the HBCU vs. PWI debate after any major HBCU-related news. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Black-ish’s awkward HBCU vs. PWI episode and, most recently, Beyoncé’s two hour infomercial for an HBCU experience. These times are no different. As an Army brat who has lived in every kind of demographic configuration and both a PWI and HBCU grad, I humbly believe that I am uniquely qualified to speak on the merits of either, more so than the average person.
But I won’t do it. Here’s why:
People rarely leave this debate with a changed heart, and unless you experience one or the other, you simply won’t get it. That’s OK. We need black students in the Ivies and state-run universities, and we also need students who are educated by HBCUs.
But, I will call out really stupid statements, and there’s one that always comes out during this debate that never ceases to amaze me because of the sheer naïveté of it:
“HBCU Grads get out into the real world and they simply aren’t prepared for it.”
Not only have I never met an HBCU grad that turns into a bumbling idiot when surrounded by the whites, but this theory makes absolutely no sense, and here’s why:
It assumes that HBCU students are sequestered away on remote islands and for four solid years have no interaction with anyone that doesn’t get ashy in the winter. False. While Historically Black Colleges and Universities typically have a mission that is focused on students of color, their communities include non-black students, professors and staff alike. Moreover, just like students everywhere else, HBCU students spend significant time off-campus at internships, part-time jobs, restaurants, museums, nightclubs and everywhere else normal people go when they’re not in class. Yes, HBCU students go to Coachella and Starbucks, too.
It assumes that to prepare someone for the “real world,” college must mirror it. This odd assumption isn’t placed on any other institution of higher learning. People don’t worry that graduates from the University of Phoenix won’t know how to interact with real live human beings because they attended classes online. No one assumes that BYU students will struggle to deal with non-Mormons. Ivy League campuses have a student body that is so far from the real world, that any criticism lobbed at Howard should be levied tenfold for Harvard or Princeton. The general American public isn’t chockfull of trust fund students, wealthy heirs and isn’t 25 percent plus Asian, and yet no one seems worried about what will happen when a Harvard graduate runs into a coal worker on the street.
It ignores hundreds of years of evidence that shows HBCUs are arguably most interested and qualified to prepare and groom black students to thrive in predominantly white spaces. Thurgood Marshall and Oprah Winfrey are obvious examples of HBCU-produced successes who slayed in worlds not intended for them, but there are hundreds of thousands of black professional HBCU graduates who negate this theory. HBCU graduates go on to be the sole brown soul in board room and court room — and they are winning. If anything, four years spent being the norm has given HBCU professionals the unrepentant swagger of a white man. For generations, HBCU students have been provided an education catered specifically to the fact that they would be the minority voice in the room where it happens. A colleague once told me that his HBCU professor coached his students on which colors to wear that are less intimidating. Call it respectability politics or call it a good idea, but don’t call it a lack of preparation.
It feeds the false impression that the only world that matters is the WASPy, corporate one. As a friend of mine stated, “HBCUs are the real world. One need not be surrounded by white people to live on actual Earth.” In short, the assertion that black students are at a disservice because they are learning in spaces that don’t look like Wall Street, assumes that corporate white spaces are their eventual goal and that it is the best goal. Do we not need college graduates to work in our public schools, in our neighborhoods, on our local councils, in our own businesses? Are HBCU grads expected to live and work solely among societies and even in countries where black Americans are a small sliver of the population? I should certainly hope not. It’s quite a tall task to expect all black college graduates to be integration pioneers.
Are there black folks who have spent the overwhelming majority of their life in black schools and neighborhoods who experience culture shock when dropped into a setting they haven’t previously experienced? Of course! In fact, many black kids fail at PWIs because for some, it is their first time in a space that doesn’t consider their cultural background in the development of their curriculum and campus environment. But when one falsely places the blame of a lack of preparation for this setting on the shoulders of black colleges and universities, it is not only intellectually lazy, it is steeped in white supremacy and the notion that we can’t educate ourselves better than someone else can.
For those of you with the stamina to engage in the PWI vs HBCU debate, I wish you godspeed. Gather your note cards, pull up your research and make your voice heard. But for the sake of us all, leave out this particular stupid talking point. It’s a disgrace to your respective alma mater.