May and June mark the end of many high school student’s careers and the embarkment on the journey to college. There are many types of colleges that offer a variety of experiences but few are met with as many as much questioning and challenges of its validity and purpose as is the Historically Black College/University, commonly referred to as an HBCU. My choice to attend an HBCU was contingent on many factors (and yes A Different World was one of them haha) but it was mostly based on the uniqueness of the experience of being amongst people with similar cultural experiences that sought to achieve high academic goals. At no other point in my life thus far have I been afforded the opportunity to look beyond the inherent biases and challenges associated with being a person of color and to simply relish understanding mankind and the fundamental components underlying friendship and relationships.
Recently in a group forum, myself and another Xavier colleague Maryse Holly were asked why we attended an HBCU. Maryse’s answer was so eloquent and well stated that it in fact inspired this post and I believe can be the billboard response for the HBCU experience. Please read below and enjoy!!
Attending an HBCU was exactly what I needed because I had a strong desire to understand issues that were affecting the African-American community. What I found instead was kinship and understanding far beyond American “blackness”. It’s easy for people who are not well informed to reduce HBCUs to being a “limiting environment”. HBCUs have students from ALL over the United States who reflect a diversity that we are not always allowed to embody. Attending an HBCU forced me to accept our diversity – an HBCU campus is home to blacks who are rich, poor, urban, rural, big families, small ones, religious, atheist, natural hair, perms, poets, engineers, pre-meds…etc., etc., etc., – I haven’t even mentioned international students who were a large part of my experience at Xavier. One of my best friends was an exchange student from Paris. His father was one of the first African professors at a university in Paris. Their family was originally from Benin. Non-black students also enrolled at Xavier. Our school has a well-respected pharmacy school that is very diverse. New Orleans is also home to a significant Vietnamese community.
Since I was enrolled at Xavier during hurricane Katrina, I ended up attending Haverford College in Pennsylvania for one semester. I realized that all of the black and latino students hung out together for the most part and I felt like if they did not share that most basic thing in common, that many of them might not even be friends. At an HBCU you can’t do that, because for the most part, we’re all black so if that is a criteria for making friends, just try befriending 4,000 people! For me, attending an HBCU helped me find MYSELF because I’m so much MORE than a black woman. Suppose I like to camp and swim. I will hang out with people who like camping. ditto for all other interests such as discussing current events, participating in a book club, being active in a religious community, being a 1st generation American…. My experience at Xavier helped me to identify those things about myself that I could have in common with anyone from any other ethnicity or background and practice making friends based on mutual interests.
I want to emphasize that we all grow up in college and perhaps these realizations would have been achieved elsewhere through some other mechanism – a book, a professor, an on campus club, etc. But this is my story and I’m sticking to it!