PWI V. HBCU: Different Strokes for Different Folks?

Ebony Turner, Opinion Editor

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Every day that I walk on Pace’s campus I wonder what my college experience would have been like if I went to a historically black college or university (HBCU) rather than a predominantly white university (PWI). Would it be more fun, cultural or even have a more diverse selection quality-wise in men? Whether this is of any importance to the run of the mill student, for a student of color the question has been raised more times than we’d like to admit. Why is it that for a student of color in matters of education we would prefer to be amongst our own? What does an HBCU bring that a PWI cannot?

An observation that even the less cultured of eyes could find is that an HBCU, by and large, gives an opportunity for students of color to not deal with the implications and consequences of color. It is a dream realized for the champions of a color blind world, and HBCU’s were birthed from that logic during their humbler beginnings. HBCU’s gave an opportunity for ambitious Blacks to receive an education during a period of growing pains for Americans that were not ready to equalize the educational experience. Going to any of the numerous colleges dedicated to furthering young Blacks fills many with a healthy dose of earned empowerment – you feel in many that you are advancing your community indirectly by attending these universities. All of my friends that attend some of the major Black colleges such as Hampton, Howard University and Bennett College have all stated in their own unique way that going to a Black school founded upon principles solely beneficial to advancing a community they belong to feels enriching and adds an element to one’s education that cannot be felt at a predominately white school. I completely understand this sentiment because, while I clearly could never relate to them on as grand a scale as going to an all-Black institution, I do get a glimpse of this enrichment when I take courses that discuss Black-related history or issues amongst minorities.  It gives me an opportunity to delve into familiar territory and I appreciate it much more since it is a rare experience to have.

HBCU’s also give Black students a chance to be themselves entirely without having to dilute their “blackness.” While I’m sure that sentence might very well be cringe worthy, it is the reality of the PWI world we live in. Racial coding is the back pocket tool for minorities to use in the event of avoiding the unfortunate instance of having to defend mannerisms of your culture that the majority cannot understand. Many characterize this as “acting white,” or for the more apologetic crowd, “acting professional.” Both are subliminal attacks on both White and Black people because most of the time when Blacks are criticized for acting white it is a stereotypical deduction or assumption of how White people act. Acting professional suggests that you cannot be Black and professional, that being professional is a characteristic that needs to be turned on and blackness is not equipped with that. Neither are right nor wrong, but racial coding is a defense mechanism, similar to how a person’s boyfriend acts around his girlfriend and how he acts around his friends – the version of this person is still who they are but not in all of its glory. Not everyone is prepared to swallow blackness whole and still see the individual for who they are without typifying them, an element of this fictitious post-racial world that can never happen. Racial coding doesn’t happen in HBCU’s because there is no one to dilute yourself for. Black people understand the many unique facets of the individuals belonging to our community, yet we are still able to understand what makes us one and the same. The balancing act is an ability we are accustomed to because it is part of what it means to belong to our culture. Being able to act as you are yet do and say things associated with blackness without having to apologize for it or explain it is liberating. I find more often than not that there are so many Black people on our campus who are indirectly apologizing for their blackness by overcompensating with diluting themselves amongst the rest of our student body to blend in. I don’t blame them, because when you are surrounded by a view that is considered normalized, you may be embarrassed by what is different from the norm. However, I detest this aspect of PWI’s because the Black community is incredibly small and leaves no breathing room for transparent conversations with like-minded individuals.

HBCU’s can bring a Toure, or dream Hampton to their university and the entire event would be filled to capacity. Bring the same event at a PWI, excluding the large universities, and the event would barely draw a large enough of audience that wouldn’t embarrass the speaker’s time. Sometimes I long for that aspect of the Black college experience because there are conversations going on within those universities on race and culture but because it is exclusive to us, it is not reaching the people who need to hear it. This is the precise reason why I am glad that I attend a PWI; we cannot continue with these segregated conversations on race because we know what our issues are. We are self-aware as a community, almost overly aware, but the people who need to be educated and engaged in this kind of dialogue are the majority at these PWI’s. We learn to work and be educated amongst ourselves, but are thrown into the realities of the ignorance wallowing in our world without a life jacket. We drown in the reality of our culture starved society that does not know how to work among unapologetic blackness because they have never needed to. We cannot coddle the truth for the people in this country and while HBCU’s are still needed, we need to fuse the two institutions in some way so that we can stop talking to ourselves and begin unifying.

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