I suppose that it’s a bit strange for me, a proud alumni of both the University of North Carolina and the University of Georgia, to write about the necessity of historically black colleges and universities. But in these struggling times, it seems that historically black colleges and universities are facing extremely difficult times. I recently posted about how the recession was affecting schools such as Morehouse College and Spelman College. But, it’s bigger than that.
The major question that seems to be floating around is somewhere along the lines of, “Is there a need for a historically black college and university?” People use all sorts of reasons to justify, citing the recent election of Senator Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States. Or people will argue that racism isn’t “that bad” and having separate schools will only perpetuate the problem. Regardless of the reason, historically black colleges and universities are important beacons of higher learning that are still needed today.
There was a time when African Americans could only dream of attending the universities that I attended. Unless we were planning to work in the kitchen, on the grounds, in housekeeping, or some other servile position, African Americans were not welcomed. HBCUs were established to provide African American students with the higher learning that they desired, as well was instill a cultural pride and tradition. Students were encouraged to take what they learned at Howard, Hampton, Fisk, North Carolina A&T, or North Carolina Central (just to name a few) and go serve their communities.
Students who attended these universities will tell you of how the experience changed their life. And while I will be quick to say that I loved every bit of the time I spent at UNC and UGA, there’s a different spirit that envelops the campus of an HBCU- from the administration, to the professors, to the homecoming celebrations, to the family lineage of attendees. Its a spirit that celebrates being African American, and all that it means, in its various forms.
Historically black colleges and universities gave African American students an opportunity to achieve when there was no other avenue available. And that is still so today. Many HBCUs still hold on to their access mission; hoping to bring in as many of the best and the brightest that they can. And while there are a number of African American students who are now able to choose between Johns Hopkins and Johnson C. Smith, we’re still finding that some will choose the Johnson C. Smith because there’s something special there that makes it a better fit.
Two articles, one in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the other from MSNBC.com detail how the financial recession is affecting HBCUs. It’s not the first time these institutions have faced hard times. It’s not the first time that they have been critiqued. I believe that the schools will be able to overcome this situation, by cutting back (as several schools are doing), and hopefully with increased donations among students, faculty, and alumni. It’s imperative for it to happen. And honestly, I can’t see the landscape of higher education being the same without historically black colleges and universities.