With literally thousands of colleges and universities across America, prospective students face no shortage of options when it comes time to apply. Among these myriad institutions are about 105 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Most such schools are located in the south — east of the Mississippi River — although there are a handful in the North and the Northeast as well.
In this article, I would like to address my white readers and give them a few reasons they should think about attending an HBCU. So if you’re white and you’re thinking about where you’d like to go to college, I’m writing to you.
First, let’s dispel a myth. Black colleges are for all people, not just black or African-American people. Originally, they were formed because white people didn’t want black students attending their institutions of higher learning — it wasn’t because blacks students wanted to be off on their own. Nowadays, there are many reasons why black students choose to attend HBCUs, even though slavery and segregation have long been over.
But my purpose here is to explain why white students should consider these schools, too. Here are six reasons, which come from several published studies (including my own) on the topic of white students attending HBCUs.
Research suggests most white students choose an HBCU because it hosts a particular academic program that interests them. If you’ve got a specific course of study in mind, be sure to research the programs HBCUs offer in that area — you may be pleasantly surprised to find exactly what you’re looking for.
For instance, if you’re interested in studying several disciplines and how those subjects intersect, Norfolk State University (NSU) has a great program in interdisciplinary studies that allows students to design their own major by combining three different disciplinary concentrations. Students can complete the program in person or online — NSU was the first HBCU to offer online degree programs.
Another notable program is the We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College. This HBCU transformed its football field into an organic farm and now uses it as an educational tool for business students as well as an important resource to serve its community. Students donate food to charitable organizations in their area — a federally-recognized food desert — providing affordable, healthy options to local families and individuals. The college also offers an exchange partnership with Duke University that focuses on environmental justice and social entrepreneurship.
I’m grouping these two together because they are relevant to cost-conscious college students. With student loan debt ballooning, many young adults are choosing to attend affordable schools closer to home. On the whole, HBCUs are more affordable than predominantly white institutions (PWIs). If there is an HBCU near your home, give it a serious look. The less expensive your college is, the lower your loans will be, and the sooner you’ll be able to start putting money in the bank for your future!
At most American colleges, the professors are overwhelmingly white (and male). I have nothing against white professors — after all, I am one of them! But there is something to be said for attending an institution that will allow you to receive instruction from a variety of racial and ethnic perspectives. The faculties at most HBCUs are remarkably diverse, with just over half identifying as African-American or black. In a study by the National Center for Education statistics (NCES), data showed that the remainder of surveyed HBCU faculty members was 25 percent white, 10 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 2 percent Latino/Latina. On the other hand (as of 2011), the faculty at PWIs was 79 percent white, 9 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 6 percent black, and 4 percent Latino/Latina.
It's important to know that HBCUs are diversifying. With a few exceptions, most HBCUs still serve a predominantly black student body. But I should let you in on a little secret: Just as you’re not the same as all other white people, there is a tremendous amount of diversity among black people. We are talking about diversity of all types: socio-economic, religious, political, philosophical, and so on.
As a white student at an HBCU, you will be part of vigorous discussions with black people who disagree with one another. And you will emerge with perspectives that may surprise you. As an added benefit, you will also realize that black students’ American experience really is different from yours. Exposure to various points of view will give you, as an American citizen, a fuller understanding of the country and the relationships among individuals within it.
_To learn more about diversity at HBCUs, check out this Noodle article, HBCUs Are More Diverse Than You Think._
Virtually every published study that I have read or conducted myself suggests that HBCUs are highly supportive of their students. White students with experience at both HBCUs and PWIs tend to report feeling encouraged at HBCUs, whereas PWIs made them feel more competitive and insulated from others. Whether it’s an accessible professor, classmates who are interested in seeing you succeed, or the general campus atmosphere, you (as a student) should feel that you are the most important part of an institution. Never underestimate the power of a supportive campus.
For most white people, this may sound like a reason to stay away from an HBCU. You may be concerned that class discussions will focus on the ways in which white people like you are responsible for slavery and racially-based oppression. You may feel that you’ll be the center of unwanted attention.
But it’s not like that at all. What you may not realize is that we live in a Eurocentric culture, and PWIs are part of that. Eurocentricity views history (among other things) through the lens of Europe and/or white people descended from Europeans. This is where we get the idea, for example, that Columbus discovered America. Is it possible that Native Americans may see things a little differently, considering they were already here?
The project of Afrocentrism is not to degrade or devalue white people. Rather, it offers another view of history and culture, one that does not automatically privilege the experiences or perspectives of white people. This view also does not assume that those of European ancestry are responsible for every great thing that ever happened in the world. As a global citizen, learning to view history and culture from non-white perspectives is a huge asset.
These are just six reasons why you should attend an HBCU. I invite you to tour one for yourself. The testimony of other white HBCU students suggests you will be glad you did.
_Follow this link to learn more about the college experience at a minority serving institution._
Clark, K. (2009, December 15). Study: HBCUs offer low tuition. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from U.S. News
Closson, R. B., & Henry, W. J. (2008). The social adjustment of undergraduate White students in the minority on an historically Black college campus. Journal of College Student Development, 49, 517-534.
Conrad, C. F., Brier, E. M., & Braxton, J. M. (1997). Factors contributing to the matriculation of White students in public HBCUs. Journal for a Just and Caring Education, 3(1), 37-62.
El Nasser, H. (2003). Black America’s new diversity. USA Today. Retrieved from USA Today
Gasman, M. (2009). Diversity at historically Black colleges and universities. Retrieved from Diverse Education
Gasman, M. (2013). The changing face of historically Black colleges and universities. Philadelphia, PA: Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
Jewell, J. O. (2002). To set an example the tradition of diversity at historically Black colleges and universities. Urban education, 37(1), 7-21.
U.S. Department of Education, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. (n.d.). HBCUs and 2020 goal. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education
Yancy, G., & Asante, M.K. (2015, May 7). Why Afrocentricity? New York Times. Retrived from New York Times