Black Colleges Deserve Praise, Not a Bad Rap

Janelle Harris

historically black collegesI know some folks watched Drumline and Stomp the Yard and now feel officially qualified to speak authoritatively on the gist of the black college experience. Let Hollywood tell it, we all break out into spontaneous dance-offs on the way to the technology lab or sociology class.

Right. I can’t tell you how many times I myself have kick flipped my way into the cafeteria. Too many times to count.

If you don’t know anything about historically black colleges or universities, otherwise known as HBCUs, you probably shouldn’t get your introductory information from TV and movies (except maybe reruns of A Different World). But — and this is for black moms as much as its for moms raising adopted black children — don’t taint some poor teenager’s perspective of their validity as good, quality schools when they start thinking about what colleges they’re going to apply to.

I’m a graduate of an HBCU, the first one as a matter of fact (shameless plug for Lincoln University), and my fraternity of fellow black college alumni are trying to enlist as many bright, ambitious, fired up students to continue the legacy of these 105 fine institutions as we can get. It saddens me when people — especially black people — turn their noses up at them and worse, turn juniors and seniors away from applying to schools like Howard and Tuskegee just because we’re now allowed to enroll in the Dartmouths and Penn States of the world.

It also irks me when people taint the black college experience by spewing played-out stereotypes as reasons why they don’t want their kids to go.

Misconception #1: They’re party schools. Let’s be clear: barring Mormon institutions and anything with “seminary” in the title, you put some kids between the ages of 18-21 on a campus with dormitories, no parents, minimal adult supervision, and a few fake IDs and sweetheart, you got yourself a party school. Black, white, red, yellow or indigo blue — it’s the age, it’s the mindset, it’s the hormones but it’s darn sure not just the institution.

I feel like this right here: if you’re committed to getting an education, you’ll get it. If you’re committed to finding out how many glasses of Que punch it takes before your face is plastered against the ceramic floor in the girls’ bathroom, you can find that out too.

Misconception #2: They don’t teach you how to operate in “the real world.” Under the tutelage of my lil’ black school, I mastered the basic principles of knocking out a killer interview, delivering presentations, how to work the heck out of a networking opportunity, and talking to anybody from any background with the same easiness I have when I’m chatting with Peaches and Peanut from around my neighborhood.

Folks who raise this question are giving corporate types too much credit, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, black kids need to learn when it’s cool to speak in slang and when it’s time to roll out the standard American English. But is the business world really so complex and intimidating that you need a four-year academic immersion to learn how to interact in a stuffy boardroom setting? Methinks not.

Misconception #3: They’re underresourced. Oh, on the contrary: nobody but nobody teaches you how to think on your feet like an HBCU. You just don’t come out of four years of duking it out in financial aid, besting technological issues, and still be able to earn yourself a 3.0 GPA to graduate with honors without knowing how to maximize your resources. True to African-American convention, HBCUs teach their progeny how to make something great out of something that, to the Ivy League graduate or the privileged big-name school alum, may not be all that amazing.

Because most don’t have the huge endowments and alumni support, they can’t afford top-of-the-line anything when it comes to technology. They sure won’t be handing out brand spankin’ new iPads on the first day of freshman orientation nor will they have the latest and greatest in touch screen this, that, or the other. But the quality of education? Priceless. And that, after all, is the ultimate resource that draws students to school in the first place, no?
By the time I wrap up my degree-chasing, I will have graduated from three historically black colleges, Lord willing, so I’m a firsthand expert on their value and merit. Tween Girl Deluxe and I have even logged onto Spelman’s website to get a head start on her college search. If HBCUs aren’t real schools, oh well. I guess we’re about to throw a few more dollars into the wind.

Do you think historically black or Hispanic schools are still relevant and necessary? Would you send your child to one?

Image via Kevin Coles/Flickr

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