Today, I sat in my office with one of my students - an African American woman. She was tired, somewhat sad, and frustrated with all that is happening on college campuses across the nation. Her feelings led to a conversation about what it's like to pursue higher education as an African American. In majority environments, African Americans are defined as African American only and are often not viewed as multifaceted. I asked her if she ever felt like her whole self and she replied, "I did at my alma mater - a Black college." The way she described her experience felt like 'home.'
There is ample evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, that students at HBCUs enjoy the profound opportunity to develop the majority of their various identities and that they are engaged as whole individuals (note: only a handful of HBCUs have fully embraced LBGT students but that number is growing). This opportunity and engagement leads to increased self-confidence and a 'suit of armor' for pushing back against racism and discrimination when they attend graduate and professional school at majority institutions and operate in society.
In these days of widespread and intensified overt and covert racism on college campuses and within society - with African Americans feeling the brunt of it - HBCUs offer an environment that many students need. The HBCU environment appreciates Black culture and heritage but doesn't discriminate against these aspects of a person.
I don't participate in conversations that pit HBCUs and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) against each other as I think that having a variety of college choices is essential for all college students. However, HBCUs do provide empowering environments that can teach PWIs much about serving African American students. All too often PWI leaders assume that they have much to teach HBCUs, but this is not the case when it pertains to providing inclusive, nurturing environments that respect African American students. Much research shows us that HBCUs love their students, embrace the entire student, suspend judgments based on race, value students' contributions to the learning environment, and see students as successful. These may seem like simple ideas, but they make a profound difference in the lives of African American students.
If you care about African Americans and more precisely, African American students, you must value HBCUs. They are pointing the way to student success for African American students no matter where they attend college.