Commentary by Keishera Lately
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are important for the African-American culture now and into the future.
HBCUs were first created well before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with the intent to provide for educational needs of the African-American community. Historically, African-Americans were not allowed to attend white colleges. But, with faith and patience, a path was rightfully created for us. Lincoln University of Missouri, an HBCU I attend, was founded in 1866 by African-American veterans of the Civil War.
Eventually, the popular HBCU’s we know today were built – Howard, Morehouse, Prairie View A&M, Jackson State, etc. were built. These universities bred successful journalists, doctors, lawyers, and professionals across many fields and from all walks of life. The black colleges would become one of the most important educational changes made for the African-American community.
HBCU’s produce success stories. Some of the legendary HBCU graduates include Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse College), David Banner (Southern University), and the nation’s first U.S. Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall (Howard University), who argued the famous Supreme Court civil rights case, Brown v. Board of Education.
Because many HBCU’s provide low-cost tuition, many African-American students can afford higher education opportunities. But the opportunity is not just with African-Americans – HBCU’s are often mixed with students from many backgrounds and regions across the country and globe. Diversity rates are rising and the love for the culture is, too. My Lincoln University campus is thankfully becoming more diverse, something that improves the HBCU experience for every student.
According to insidehighered.com, 51 percent of black HBCU graduates said they were doing well financially, while only 29 percent of their non-HBCU counterparts could say the same.
As an African-American student, I know it can be hard trying to determine where we are most comfortable or “fit-in” with society and school. We want a sense of self-assurance which provides a comfort of knowing (that) we won’t fall into the stereotypical actions of a black person that society has painted for us – or worse, the fear of “acting white” simply because we are an intelligent and can articulate in conversation. Even the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and the people we associate with are constantly being judged.
Unfortunately, this can cause a personal insecurity about being able to achieve academic and professional success.
Research indicates African-American students often display these characteristics while attending a predominantly white institution (PWI). This is also one of the reasons why black students at PWI’s form black student unions – these are safe places for them, where they feel comfortable with who they are. At an HBCU, the whole campus is a safe place. Traditional PWI’s – such as nearby Mizzou or Kansas University – seem to care more about numbers than anything else. Are we truly being appreciated or are we only being tolerated?
This is why I know that it’s in the best interest for African-American students to choose at least one out of the 100-plus HBCU’s in the U.S, whether it’s a private or public university. Attend, but also understand the importance of embracing the culture and having a meaningful personal experience, as well as the preparation of success it brings to you.
Since my freshman year in high school, I knew that attending an HBCU was likely my higher education path. I was not interested in attending a PWI. I wanted to be a part of history and feel comfortable around people like me. Growing up I watched many sitcoms that embraced the HBCU culture – for example A Different World and Martin, where Martin Lawrence could often be seen wearing HBCU apparel. Movies like DrumLine and Spike Lee’s School Daze shined a light on HBCU culture. The movies made HBCU’s look fun and made me feel like it was OK for African-Americans to be intellectual.
Although I initially looked at attending a different HBCU, my two years at Lincoln University have been life-changing. I’ve had some of the best moments of my life and I’ve met some people who I know will be in my life forever. Aside from the constant battle of the students with the financial aid office, or the poorly constructed café, everything else is great! Professors here are more invested in students than paychecks.
Our campus activities are some of the best, especially when it comes to the most wonderful season for HBCU’s – homecoming! Even the field of journalism has allowed me to network. Being a part of the Clarion staff and the LU Broadcasters constantly brings new relationships and connections. Shout-out to the teams!
In conclusion, I believe that LU and other HBCU’s can provide the opportunity to make the best of your OWN college experience. There is a circle for you.
(Keishera Lately is a journalism student at Lincoln University)