First, let me start by saying this is not one of those HBCU vs. PWI stories aiming to debate the validity of either educational system. Both are great in their own right, worthy of praise, and marked with imperfections. I did, in fact, attend an HBCU — but I didn’t choose my HBCU because my HBCU chose me.
Many won’t understand that last statement, especially if you weren’t fortunate enough to experience the magic that is an HBCU, so let me school you. As an African-American woman who attended private schools her entire life, I had a very narrow definition of what encompassed a high-quality education. I flip-flopped between a predominantly white elementary school, racially diverse (yet majority black) middle school, and staunchly white high school for the better part of my academic career. When I reached my senior year, at what most would consider a relatively progressive high school nestled in the hills of one of the most affluent counties in the country, I started the process of college counseling.
Filled with common app tips and tricks, SAT vs. ACT listicles, resumes of extracurricular activities, and the dreaded questions of financial aid, the college prep process was more grueling than landing my first full-time job out of college. My classmates casually referenced top Ivy Leagues as their safety schools, while I considered myself lucky to have even one of them on my 'reach' list. But as I look back on things, out of the 20 or so small liberal arts colleges and states schools that were pushed my way, not a single HBCU was brought into the discussion. Likely due to the fact that I was one of three black students (two of whom were bi-racial) in my class of 98 graduating students. My high school simply did not have the subject matter expertise to advise me on such a decision, and as a result, I never considered these schools to be an option.
This, of course, didn’t stop my mother — who’s always had a vested interest in my education — from pushing me to apply. After lots of teeth-pulling, eye-rolling and utter resentment, I ultimately submitted an application to the HBCU which would go on to become my beloved alma mater. But why this push to send me to an HBCU? I thought you’d never ask!
A mother’s intuition is undeniable. They know you better than you know yourself, despite our relentless efforts to prove otherwise. My mother knew I was smart, she knew I was well-liked by my friends, and she also knew I had yet to come to terms with a very important aspect of my identity — my black girl magic (as it’s affectionately called today). Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was black. I went to an African Methodist church, was a member of Jack & Jill (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and experienced my fair share of subtle prejudices that quickly reminded me of my blackness. But the vast majority of my days were spent around people who didn't look like me, didn't always care to understand my culture, and most of all, weren't prepared to embrace the more 'uncomfortable' aspects my blackness. Thus, while I knew I was black, I didn't know what it really meant to be black.
This lack of identity is what pushed my parents to enroll me in Spelman. And although, at the time, I felt like they stripped me of one of the most monumental decisions of my young-adult life, I'm glad they did, because I would not be who I am today if it were not for my HBCU. In some strange twist of fate, I truly believe Spelman chose me. It’s said that Spelman women make a choice to change the world, and when asked, I never hesitate to say Spelman changed my world.
It is at Spelman where I learned what it means to be a smart, independent, proud black woman. It is at Spelman where I met the women and men (Morehouse College is right across the street) that have been and will be by my side anytime I celebrate a new career milestone, anytime I experience heartache and need a shoulder to cry on, anytime I fall and don't think I can get back up, and most importantly, anytime I fail to live up to my full potential.
It is this invaluable network of amazing black women and men that makes an HBCU magical. It is the organic connection and innately common experiences that make HBCUs a safe haven for young black adults in today’s racially turbulent environment. And it is this once-in-a-lifetime HBCU experience that makes us the envy of anyone we meet (especially around Homecoming season) even if they don’t want to admit it. So whether your family has a strong HBCU bloodline or you’re the first to attend, wear that regalia with pride and never be afraid to represent!
What was your college experience like? Let us know in the comments below!
Oakland, CA native. Black woman in tech. Lover of all things food and wine. Strange obsession with Polaroid photos. Professional ghost writer finding her own voice.
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Have you ever thought about the meaning of your name? Personally, I like to Google the meaning of my unique name at least once a year. The Name Project is a docuseries that takes the time out to explain how our names affect our lives by diving into identity, family histories and public perception. The series is directed by Antoinette Brock, blogger of Don't Throw Away The Crust. Check it out above and share with us what you think!
What does your name mean to you and how has it affected your life?
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There’s a bad bug in our country, and I’ve seen it more than once.
It’s quiet, and it’s fearful, and it grows from month to month.
I see it on empty trains when a White woman pushes me “accidentally,” and if her friend notices she forces an “excuse me” gently.
I see it when I’m introduced by one White friend to theirs, there’s a look of disgust as they make sure no one is looking before they won’t even shake my hand.
There’s a bad bug in this country and it really packs a punch. And I’ve seen it. Boy, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it more than once.
When White men hear what I do, refusing to look me in the eye, they pry about my education and if I had a full ride. Before quickly minimizing what I’ve accomplished, doing so with glee. And comment after comment makes me want to flee.
When a boy is murdered and it’s “let’s focus on something else. I think Friends is on. Now those are people that I’d like to help.”
When a Black girl is killed and it’s “well, if she would have only listened, then her blood wouldn’t sit there on the classroom floor gleaming as it glistens.”
There’s a bad bug in this country and it really packs a punch. It’s everywhere I go — at breakfast, dinner, lunch. When I go to an event, there’s a woman sitting there. And she turns around and smiles, twirling her fingers in her hair, and she looks at my two White friends, handing them her card, but to me in the middle she glances, looking as if I were a fraud.
There’s a bad bug in this country and it really packs a punch. And I’ve seen it. Boy, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it more than once.
It’s ignoring when a Black woman screams in a Silicon Valley asking why she must choose between being safe or being sorry. It’s a struggling Mexican restaurant that prays for steps at the door, while down the street three White men in sombreros have so much business it becomes a chore.
There’s a bad bug in this country, and I’ve seen it more than once. It’s a thought. It’s a feeling. It’s a lie. It’s a hunch. It’s ignoring how we’ve been taught to believe that one is better than another. It’s a hatred when a White woman sees a Black woman doing better than others. It’s saying “Racists only lived long ago.” while stepping over Black bodies in the cold, hard snow.
There’s a bad bug in this country, and I’ve seen it more than once. And you? Have you seen it too? Do you have it? Does it punch?
McKensie or Kingzie is a writer and strategist with a love for dope poetry and prose. A consultant by day and writer by night, she composes works about her experiences growing up on Chicago's beautifully vibrant Southside. Follow her on Twitter...
How do chemistry, biology, mechanical engineering, and English majors end up as the face of African and Middle Eastern Studies? By being black females at a school where only 3.6 percent of the undergraduate population identifies as African American/Black. Upon seeing the image below and reading its heading, I felt an immediate sense of disrespect — as if all of my accomplishments at the university were moot and it only saw me as a token minority to be showcased. They chose a 7-year-old image of my friends and I enjoying our first few weeks at Southern Methodist University, a time filled with excitement and joy, to use as a rather peculiar exhibition of diversity.
When I look at the image below, I remember being a freshman excited to commence my college experience. What SMU saw was a stock photo, their very own “50 Shades of brown and hijab," that perfectly encompassed the type of diversity the university lacks but loves to use as a token.
A friend of mine at the university forwarded me the picture above in jest to show how our picture was in the course catalogue and featured as the face of “African and Middle Eastern Studies.” However, when I saw the photo I didn't find it humorous but deeply upsetting. My alma mater, a place I called home for five years and received two degrees from, judged my friends and I based on our physical appearance as only being “fit” to represent a study that matched our skin color — they saw three women of color and a supposedly Middle Eastern girl and consciously categorized us.
According to SMU’s logic, African and Middle Eastern studies are the only disciplines we could have possibly studied, why else use a random picture of black women to exemplify the major? Let me be clear. I’m not upset at SMU for incorrectly identifying our majors; the issue at hand is that they profiled us to be the face of those studies. I am disappointed in the deliberate decision, fueled by implicit biases, to profile women of color to represent African and Middle Eastern disciplines. The issue at hand is what is being insinuated and communicated between the lines. It's the denial that these implicit biases exist that continues to maintain systematic racism not only at SMU, but also in our educational system and American society in general.
This is not the first time an image of me has been used as promotional material for SMU. I have no issue with them using any image of me, as it is their right given that we signed a waiver as freshmen. My issue lies with the disrespect of my entity as a student and as a black woman. I have a story, and it's not that of an African and Middle Eastern studies student. I earned a BS and MS in engineering at SMU as one out of four women in a class of 40 undergraduate mechanical engineers. That is the story SMU should be celebrating and promoting.
Do not disrespect my degrees.
Less than 2 months ago I participated it in the #ilooklikeanengineer hashtag with fellow female engineers across the nation to combat stereotypes we face in corporate America. Never did I expect that my alma mater would be the institution that stereotyped me.
SMU could not have been more wrong about me. My parents hail from Ethiopia, and I identify as black. More importantly, the hijab I wear does not make me Middle Eastern. Black American Muslims exist. We have since slavery when an estimated 30 percent of slaves were forcefully kidnapped from Muslim communities.
In response to my tweets demanding a statement, SMU replied, “the photo was mistakenly used on a University web page and is being removed. We apologize for its use and thank you for alerting us.” What the administration fails to realize is that we need to address how this ”mistake” happened in the first place and figure out a way to make sure it never happens again.
I responded to their tweet with, “@SMU How do you mistakenly profile a group of black women? This was biased and you need to own up to that. Who approved this selection?”
SMU replied, “@nliben We understand your anger and are working to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We apologize, and we will do better.”
I want to know how you plan to do better, SMU. Racism, unconscious biases and profiling are absolutely unacceptable.
What steps are you going to implement to strengthen your black community on-campus and off-campus? What steps will be taken to further diversity and awareness?
You don’t mistakenly harbor stereotypes, you don’t mistakenly act with bias and you certainly don’t mistakenly profile people. Maybe, just maybe, if SMU had a more diverse student body, you wouldn’t have to recycle a 7-year-old photo. More importantly, maybe if we had a diverse student body we could create a more inclusive community where minorities are more than just tokens.
Thanks, SMU. Pony up, I guess.
Noura Liben is a Swedish Ethiopian living in Jacksonville, Florida. By day, she hustles as an engineer and by night she hosts 'Empire' watch parties. She enjoys sci-fi, books, music, AKA, finding new ways to dress up her hijab, traveling and shopping.
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Diversity in the film industry or nah? Watch this spot on video that highlights the issue. Also be sure to check out Blavity's list of multi cultural film/TV directors to check out.
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This piece by Pages Matam covers the complexity of being black and living in America, no matter where you're from. Watch his riveting performance below.
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I must confess — I didn't want to attend Howard University specifically because it was an HBCU.
I assumed it lacked diversity. I envisioned it being ghetto. I didn't think it reflected the real world. But I graduated in May and I now believe it was the best, single most important decision of my life. Howard played a pivotal role in forming my identity, and I truly feel indebted to the institution.
Many black students and parents share similar concerns about the HBCU experience. Students are often told they're too smart for HBCUs and are steered away from them by their parents or school counselors. So, I want to debunk some of the myths about HBCUs and talk about the three most important things I got out of my four years at Howard that black students simply can't get at a predominately white institution (PWI). Hopefully, this post better equips students to make decisions about what school will be best for them.
These are the things that changed my mind about HBCUs:
Culturally Relevant Education
At an HBCU, you're always learning things that are relevant to your identity as a black American, inside and outside of the classroom. From discussing African American and continental African history and talking about current events that are relevant to the black American experience, to holding conversations with my peers about colorism or the appropriation of black culture by white artists, I always felt like I was learning about me. And I personally needed this – I had no real exposure to black history in elementary or high school.
Now, that’s not to say HBCU students don’t learn about anything else – of course they do. And it’s not to say that black students at PWIs never talk about Freddie Gray or Miley Cyrus – of course they do. But the reality is there are far fewer spaces in which to have those conversations on PWI campuses outside of the monthly Black Student Union meeting or event at the Black Culture Center. At an HBCU, it’s not necessary to pick a date, time and place to learn about being black.
At Howard, I felt immersed in black ideas, black culture and black people. And I loved it. It’s necessary. It’s the reason why black students at PWIs have Black Student Unions in the first place — there is value in blackness and black spaces. At an HBCU, you don’t need a Black Culture Center or a club – the entire campus is both. The entire campus is a safe space that caters to you.
Before attending Howard, I hesitated to apply to HBCUs because I wanted “diversity” and I didn’t think I would find it at an HBCU. I was wrong. Black people are incredibly diverse, and at Howard I was introduced for the first time to the diversity of blackness. I met students from all over the country – California, Texas, Georgia, New York, even Alaska and Hawaii. I marveled at the uniqueness of the cultures that exist amongst black people in different parts of the country – such as the slang they use, the dances they invent and the music they listen to. Also, Howard has students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds. There were students on campus that grew up in the inner city and could barely afford to be there alongside students whose parents are B-list celebrities and were paying for their education out of pocket (and everyone in between). Students hailed from 67 different countries – from Haiti to Honduras to Nigeria. This breadth of backgrounds produces the diversity of experiences that produces diversity of thought – the true end goal of diversity in a collegiate setting. Such diversity of thought can be lacking on PWI campuses, especially large state PWIs where the majority of students hail from the same state and often from similar economic backgrounds.
Frankly, the idea that HBCU campuses are not diverse stems from the notion that black people themselves are not diverse – that we all think and act the same. Students look to PWIs specifically seeking diversity, despite the fact that most students are white. It's understood that white people can be diverse. The same must be recognized about the black community.
At an HBCU, you are in the numerical majority. This allows you to achieve a level of comfort with yourself and with the people around you that's not possible when you are one of 150 black kids out of 2,000 students at a PWI.
For one, the burden of representation and the threat of racial stereotyping are non-existent. You don’t have to worry about whether people are going to think this about you or that about you because you're black. You don’t have to worry about “representing well.” You don’t have to worry about whether your peers think you're there only because of affirmative action or worry about your opinions, experiences and contributions to discussions being devalued because “of course you think that, you’re black.” You won’t experience overt racism or constant racial microaggressions nearly as often. You can be yourself and be at ease with the knowledge that your presence is valued, your opinions are respected and appreciated, and that excellence is assumed of you, no less than. You don’t have to feel like you must prove anything to anybody.
Furthermore, you experience a certain cultural connection with the majority of the student body and relate to them in more ways than you would most students at a PWI. This manifests itself in ways that might seem insignificant until you are in an environment completely void of all of them at once. That means things like people understanding the slang you use, being familiar with classic songs by Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg, and having the rhythm to join you when your song comes on and it’s time to hit the latest dance. Too, black people interact with each other differently amongst themselves than they do in mixed company. That's a reality.
Being in an environment in which you feel comfortable is critical to the college experience. After all, the campus you choose will be your home for four years. People often want to learn from being outside of their comfort zone, but there's a difference between being forced outside of your comfort zone on occasion and learning from that experience and never, ever being comfortable at all. The former can occur on an HBCU campus. By contrast, four years is a long time to be uncomfortable in your own home. The kind of comfort and connection achieved at an HBCU allows for an honesty and an openness with your peers that enables you to explore and learn about yourself and from others at a greater depth than is possible in an environment in which you feel alienated — or worse, rejected.
Too, it facilitates the development of a groundedness in your blackness and a confidence necessary for navigating the rest of the largely white world in professional spaces and elsewhere.
At an HBCU, you never feel starved for blackness. At a PWI, that starvation is the norm.
There's something truly magical about the HBCU experience.
Undoubtedly, many Black students enjoy, learn and grow from their experience at PWIs. But the cultural climate at an HBCU — being surrounded by black people just as beautiful, brilliant and driven as you are — can do things for your personal growth and development as a black person that a PWI cannot. You'll be pleasantly surprised, if not proven right, by the diversity on campus. You're an interesting person. Other Black people are just as unique and interesting as you are. And the friendships you forge with them will last a lifetime.
Plus, it's a lot of fun! From the poppin' homecomings to the step competitions and parties, black people know how to turn up. Attending an HBCU is a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. It's not one you want to miss out on.
I strongly urge black high school students to apply to and consider attending HBCUs. Visit a campus. Do some research. If you have questions about the rigor of the coursework or career opportunities post-HBCU graduation, talk to current students, alumni and administrators. But don't write them off for reasons as baseless as the ones I had. And recognize that when you stereotype HBCUs, you're stereotyping yourself.
Brandon Ellington Patterson is an editorial fellow at 'Mother Jones' magazine in San Francisco, CA. He is a 2015 graduate of Howard University. Read his social justice blog at myblackmindd.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.
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On Saturday night, Lin Mei, a 29-year-old from London, was refused entry into DSTRKT nightclub in London along with a group of friends. In an interview with The Voice newspaper, Lin Mei alleged that two of her friends were told that they would not be allowed into the club on the basis that they were "too dark" and "overweight."
Since Saturday, a number of women have shared similar experiences of discrimination at DSTRKT and other London clubs on social media. Representatives of the club have allegedly denied that the club turns away people on the basis of race, but they have not yet released an official statement.
Last night a crowd gathered outside DSTRKT to protest in response to the mistreatment of the women. The protest is also gaining strong support online under the hashtags #DoILookDstrkt and #dstrkt.
Check out some of the tweets below.
Have you experienced something similar to this? Let us know in the comments below.