HBCUs’ relevance in today’s society

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

HBCUs’ (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) relevancy in today’s society is constantly being questioned since institutions of education can no longer discriminate, barring people of color. PWIs (Predominately White Institutions) now open to people of color seem to bring about the contention among some critics that historically Black institutions are now obsolete and irrelevant.

It is no secret that many HBCUs lacking sustainable resources, are experiencing sagging attendance, and are struggling to survive from being engulfed by larger predominantly White institutions. There is also the argument that HBCUs lack the academic superiority of the traditional White institutions. We know, as African Americans, this is absurd and ludicrous.

However the role and significance HBCUs have played in catapulting Africans American into middle and upper class status is unprecedented and cannot be dismissed or trivialized. HBCUs are a source of pride and respect among many in the Black community because a significant amount of college educated African Americans attended or graduated from theses prized and dedicated institutions of learning.

HBCUs have played a special place in the hearts of many older African Americans because they afforded many African Americans a safe, caring and nurturing environment at a volatile time in our nation’s history—when they knew they weren’t welcomed in predominately White universities and colleges. It was at HBCUs where you had committed, dedicated educators willing to go the extra mile, mentoring the young predominately Black students, instilling within them a sense of pride and dignity and an uncompromising dedication to be the best in their chosen profession.

It was no secret that the dream among educators in HBCUs was to show this country and the world that they could graduate top African Americans professionals second to none in their designated fields. This task was often made even greater when most HBCUs operated with limited resources and the backlash of vindictive haters within the White community—especially many White legislators eager to limit or cut their funding.

If one is in doubt about the role HBCUs have made nationally or globally, just look at the multitude of African Americans in professional and prestigious positions around you. They include doctors, dentists, engineers, educators, corporate executives, health care providers, lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, etc. They have contributed as competent and valuable productive citizens in all academic and professional venues. HBCUs are to be revered and honored and provided with additional financial support to insure their continuance, butthere seems to be a movement to diminish their existence.

There is an argument that since predominately White universities and colleges now offer admission to Blacks and people of color there is no longer a need for HBCUs—as if they are considered inconsequential. One must honestly understand the impetus initiating White universities’ surge to admit people of color. It was not specifically to promote diversity and do the right thing. It was to attain federal monies contingent on minority enrollment.

In all honesty, it must be noted that historically White universities and colleges are graduating the majority of African Americans attending college. But it is also a fact that HBCUs graduate more poor African Americans than predominantly White universities and colleges. Nonetheless, predominately White universities seem to be heralded as the superior choice for attendance over historic predominately Black institutions. This favor can be seen as promoting White assimilation as well an air of White supremacy—not diversity.

Contrary to what one may be told, HBCUs are second to none in promoting academic excellence and personal pride within its attendees, while often operating with limited resources. In fact, there is nothing like the HBCU experience if you ask one of its African American graduates. African Americans attending HBCUs usually have a greater Black consciousness of their history and who they are. They appear to be more dedicated to going back and giving back to the Black community.

All too often, African American graduates of predominately White universities have a Eurocentric perspective of thinking, advocating personal self-gains over community service in the Black community. Unfortunately, you find some African American graduates from White universities appearing to have an apathetic view of the problems plaguing their brothers and sisters in disadvantaged and impoverished communities. It can be interpreted that many of their actions convey a ‘me’ rather than an ‘us’ attitude. Success seems to be measured around titles, resume building, and materialistic attainment.

It is an unwritten mandate that graduates of HBCUs go back and serve and uplift their communities. HBCUs promote an unapologetic pride, respect, and resilience within attendees and graduates that no one can diminish.

Attending any college or university is a privilege and an honor and is necessary toward meeting the goals and requirement in one’s professional choice. Americans should appreciate all colleges and universities of quality education.

HBCUs should not be trivialized or eliminated because of how one views historic relevancy. Penalizing HBCUs because they came about because White universities refused to admit African Americans is morally and ethically wrong. HBCUs have never denied other races, admittance. They continue to offer a quality education to anyone attending.

In reality, Black students should go where they get the best financial aid deal or scholarship to meet their needs. But do not trivialize or downplay historically Black universities, categorizing White universities as better or superior. We too, as African Americans, have our Ivory League HBCUs such as Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, Hampton, and Tuskegee. We revere them just as much as Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

I guess my view on how HBCUs are perceived is personal because my wife, sons, and I are proud products of HBCUs at TSU, Fisk, Hampton, Howard, and Tuskegee.

Do not minimize the importance or relevancy of HBCUs, especially to African Americans who are recipients of these beacons of greatness. We know the truth. Attend the college that best accommodates or delivers your needs.