After taking a semester off from school, I’ve prayed and researched for the school I want to finish my degree at. Right now, I’m stuck between Howard and USF. Though I’m excited, I will say that in the process of making this choice, I am very much perplexed, given the factors of attending either an HBCU or PWI. There has been much debate over this and it seems we’ve been slow to find a common ground. Social media provides little space to talk about this due to the variety of voices, most of which aren’t objective or well-tempered. This is a topic, like many others, that we must continue to have healthy dialogue around in order to create greater community and mutual understanding within the black community.
Proximity to whiteness and white people can become a badge of honor for black students. We tend to fall into the trap of valuing, upholding, and reinforcing the idea that whiteness is superior, and that blackness is secondary to it through presupposing that attending an all-white institution requires somewhat of an intellectual ascent. None of these things mentioned are overt but are more or less hidden in our language and posture when considering an HBCU. We perceive blackness to be inadequate when we discredit the experience and education provided by HBCU’s. From my own experience, I recall not seeing myself at an HBCU because of my own perception of academic inferiority of a black institution as well as the educational experience it provided. It’s no coincidence that I’d learned and internalized this idea that education provided at a predominately white institution is quality, while that of an HBCU is “special” or unconventional. Unsurprisingly, these are things that society subtly socializes us to presume.
As well, I think it is fair to say that within the context of a PWI we are likely to accumulate much stress to our mental being that the black intellectual experience involves feeling like you have to be “superhuman” in white settings. This involves the urge to do just as much if not more than your white peers who are more than likely just as capable or incapable as you. There is very much an extreme amount of pressure on black students and people of color in general to “perform well” in white spaces.
In my own observations of how we, as black people, make our presence known on the campus of a PWI, black culture has many times seemed to be a monolith. Though black people come and exists in so many forms on predominately white campuses, if not careful, they are subject to possibly assimilating to one idea, one status quo, and existing within one stringent network. This network from my observations consists of Greek life, black orgs supplemental to that, and the party scene. The three groups that makeup this network likely become the ‘watchdogs’ for black culture and access to it are only granted through these three mediums.
Likewise, within this network exists the prioritizing of merely providing some form of entertainment that caters to black students and assumes that the HBCU experience is that of constant party and play. This was very stifling in my experience because we are so much more than sources of mere entertainment. The unfortunate impact is that the power is left in the hands of a selected few to be representatives who more than likely may not voice the concerns of all black students on campus.
Being socially conscious at a PWI as well being black and Christian in many cases placed me on an island. An island of intellectual loneliness forcing me to go an extra mile to stay engaged or informed on things that others didn’t seem to have much concern for. If there were those on campus who spent time pondering the things I studied recreationally, all of which were relevant to the black experience, there was little space provided for us to engage with these things. Myself and others rarely had much space to process on a plethora of things that centered on the black experience because most black students seemed out of touch with it. The culture there seemed very lackadaisical in response to the whiteness that surrounded it and current events.
While I sought to interrogate the racial climate in any white space I found myself in, this was not a major priority to other black students on campus. Rather, they seemed confined to what felt like a “departmental ghetto,” a separate part of campus whose boundaries they wouldn’t transcend. This was not a result of being denied into other predominantly white spaces, instead they were a result of a refusal to move into them.
Being in a place in my life where I am finding ways to embrace my own ethnic identity, I seek to learn from those who look just like me or come from the same experiences as me. My mental health at this point cannot afford for me to psychologically walk on eggshells. I love Orlando, the things I’ve experienced while attending an institution that was predominately white and the ways in which I was able to engage with diverse cultures. I would agree that there needs to be black students on the campuses of PWI’s, engaging with the campus in ways that help the black experience become a known, functional and mobilizing force rather than a mere token.
During the era of newborn hip-hop, black people have fallen into “partying and bulls*n” which has weakened the sensitivity of the conscience to its surroundings. Black culture should be broad, it should unified, and it should be functional in whatever space it exists.
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