In 1837, the Institute of Colored Youth, now CheyneyUniversity of Pennsylvania, opened and became the first of what we now call Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs for short. The establishment of HBCUs really exploded after the abolition of slavery, mostly in the southeast, providing an education to newly freed slaves. Today, there are more than one hundred HBCUs. HBCUs have produced great leaders and astonishingly successfulindividuals such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evers, Oprah Winfrey, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, to name a few.
Though we as African Americans do not face disadvantages as glaring as those that made HBCUs such a necessity, we still face disproportionate obstacles as we ascend various levels of education. Separate but Equal still exists, with money being the great divider. I attended Kenwood Academy in Chicago, a majority black school considered the second best public high school in the city. One day, a group of students from a suburban, majority white, high school visited and I was astoundedwhen I learned about the variety and choices in classes and programs their school offered beyond traditional English, math, science and language classes. Attending a school in a more affluent area affords more resources and outlets to engage and identify academic interests,and studies show that African Americans percentage wise are disproportionately likely to live in relative poverty. Years after integration, many Black students have moved away from HBCUs, perhaps believing that HBCUs provided a lesser educational opportunity. This concept has not materialized. According to a November 30, 2007 Wall Street Journal article, dropout rates for HBCUs are “considerably lower than at the typical majority-white school.”, and “although only a 10th of all African-Americans attend HBCUs, they award over a fifth of all bachelor’s degrees earned by blacks.”
At HBCUs, minority and lower income students are put in an environment where more individual attention is offered through smaller class sizes. Also, certain students who maybe would not be given a chance at the bigger universities because they excelled in their classes but did not get the best standardized test scores, or just would not be able to afford to go to certain schools, are given a chance. Another advantage I have experienced attending an HBCU is the focus us students are given towards preparing for the transition into America’s professional culture, which still harbors certain biases against certain aspects of Black culture. At my school, we are given courses and seminars that identify those biases so that we know what adjustments we need to make once we are out in the world. Historically Black colleges are still needed today for much the same reason they were needed in the past: they provide a supportive, positive environment and an opportunity to people of color who otherwise may not be given a fair chance. Until everybody in this country is truly given a fair opportunity at an education, we must support HBCUs and make students aware of the great resource these institutions provide.