Author: Brennan E. Wells;
For those who are unaware I will divulge the information, that I have attended a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), a Hispanic Serving-Institution (HSI), and a Historically Black College/University (HBCU), which enables me to speak from a broad experience. As I have said in previous articles, I do not say this to impress, but always to press home the point, that my experiences should be used to shorten your learning curve. There is no need for future generations or those who are my junior to repeat my mistakes. Furthermore, by attending these vastly different institutions I have been inundated with the way in which Hispanics, Whites, and African-Americans educate their own. The common thread I have found is that, when one leaves an HSI or PWI, one will leave with a knowledge of that culture, their sincere interest in academia and the direction of that ethnic group. I cannot say the same for the HBCU.
Yes, HBCUs have mission statements, values and goals, which would leave one to believe that surely this is foretelling of what direction African-Americans will go in. However, there is a “say-do” gap when it comes to HBCUs. A “say-do” gap is industry talk for, saying one thing and doing another. Think of your own experiences at your own HBCUs, think of your experiences while visiting HBCUs, or even think of the experiences you hear from those who have attended or graduated from an HBCU. Are you or those you are connected with left with an idea of where the African-American people will be in the near future?
While attending my previous PWI I was forced to attend a Freshmen orientation class. Moreover, students were required to read a book in the summer before Freshmen orientation was to begin and come prepared to the Freshman orientation class ready to write, discuss and analyze the book that was assigned. This singular book set the tone for the educational direction, mission, and mindset of that PWI. Before you stepped foot onto the campus the bar was set and the way in which you were to view the world was set in place. On the other hand, at too many HBCUs you may or may not be required to take a Freshman orientation class based on your test scores, which is a mistake in of itself. The HBCU Freshman orientation, if you were required to enroll in such a class, would most likely be centered on study skills and other generic college acclimation strategies. Nowhere near what the PWI required of its students.
The HSI I attended was not as demanding as the PWI. The challenges and difficulties that Hispanics face are similar to those faced by African-Americans, so this less challenging workload was to be expected. Despite this reality, the course offerings, certificate programs, daytime and evening classes, commitment from professors and resources available far outpaced those of the HBCU. The focus of this school was strictly academic, here we see the focus of the Hispanic group. Yes, my experiences are limited in this respect and I cannot claim to make wholesale judgments based on my experiences alone, however, data sets prove in my affirmative. Hispanics more often than not fair slightly better than African-Americans in educational ratings. I will admit that this HSI did not offer any athletic programs only academic, which enables them a flexibility to do more without having to support athletics. Yet we must keep in mind that knowledge of self comes with its benefits.
Finally, the HBCU is an experience of vacillation between a cultural haven and everyday life in the New Jim Crow. Between these two stark differences, there is little room for anything else. On the one hand, one is told to relish in their culture and tradition, then on the other is reprimanded with old ideas, conformity, and stringent opportunities for growth. What is missing the most is an attempt in any respect to root students in a true experience of their culture. No, late night parties and social events do not contain all that there is of the African-American experience, nor does “soul food” and pork chop plates. The wealth, beauty, and depth of what Black America holds within is vast and reaches to the limits of one’s imagination.
One example of this wealth, beauty, and depth is found not at an HBCU, but at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It is here at UTC, that students are exploring the cultural and societal impact of Beyonce’s Lemonade. I do admit, I was not a fan of the music and video at first viewing/listening, but after revisiting the music I have seen it in a new way. UTC sees the music as groundbreaking and relevant as well too, so much so, that UTC has declared the week of April 3rd Lemonade Week on campus in honor of Beyonce’s contributions to music, society, and academia. This is the type of action that you would expect to come from the HBCU community, but that is not the case.
Where might we find a significant number of HBCUs who inundate their students with a pre-summer reading requirement? Where might we find a significant number of HBCUs, that are expanding course offerings that meet students where they are? Where might we find a significant number of HBCUs who are willing to take the lead and mold the minds of Black America’s youth to take on the challenges that we see today? Yes, there is North Carolina A&T that recently had Facebook’s Founder come and speak at their university. Howard has expanded its footprint in California with Howard West, and a consortium of HBCUs have come together to meet the dearth of Black male teachers in the profession. I admit, that this is a step in the right direction, but small steps pale in comparison to the need for giant leaps. One giant leap would include sufficient culture in Black education.
Black culture alone will not solve all of Black America’s issues, but it stirs within an individual the makings of change. The same way James Baldwin and Toni Morrison forced America to deal with its sin of slavery and discrimination. And for those already “woke”, this pivot in Black education will only further their resolve to seek additional solutions to the ills in Black America. What do you say, reader? What more can be done?