Ever since protests began at the University of Missouri for its blatant acts of racism on campus, people have been arguing on social media over whether historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) offer a safer, more enriching college experience for Black students over predominantly White institutions (PWI).
Today, the topic is trending on Twitter with the hashtag, #HBCU, and people from both historically Black schools and PWIs were joining in on the debate. If you ask me, this conversation is a huge waste of our time and is only hurting the #SolidaritywithMizzou movement. Trying to insert HBCUs into the center of the conversation on the Mizzou cause only distracts from solving the real and deep-rooted issue of students of color being discriminated against in places of learning.
Instead of shifting our attention to the reasons why Black students should more seriously consider studying at historically black colleges and universities, we should be paying all of our attention to dissolving the chronic racial discrimination and microaggressions in our nation’s schools.
On Twitter, some insisted that Blacks should invest their money and education into HBCUs where we can study alongside others who share our backgrounds—and often, the same sensitivities and concerns—in times of racial conflict. Others have responded saying that attending an HBCU doesn’t shield students from racism (as evidenced by the threat made against Howard University by a White supremacist last night), and that celebrating HBCUs doesn’t detract from the discrimination students of color face when they’re racial minorities in their classrooms.
I wholeheartedly agree with the latter argument. Of course, I’m biased in that I went to predominantly White college. But I know that HBCUs offer wonderful experiences and resources for their students because I have family members and friends that have attended them and that swear by them to this day.
In fact, I probably would have gone to an HBCU too if I had more guidance and information presented to me as a teen when I was reviewing my options for my college career. And yes, I totally agree that HBCUs aren’t always given the respect and esteem that they deserve just because of their dedication to and history in serving marginalized populations.
Still, highlighting the merits of attending an HBCU is not the issue here. Making sure that all students feel safe and welcome in environments intended for learning, fostering growth and building networks among young people is what needs to be resolved.
Our ancestors fought for our right to be integrated into all aspects of society—especially our nation’s classrooms. Saying that Black students should exclusively study at HBCUs to ensure their wellbeing while pursuing their college education completely undermines the gains and importance of that work. Black students have the right to go to any school that they want and that they’re accepted to—even if other people wouldn’t have chosen those schools for themselves.
As horrible as it is that Howard University is currently on high alert from having received a threat to kill students on campus that have expressed their support for the #SolidaritywithMizzou movement, maybe it will show people that you can’t hide young folks from the oppressions of the world, no matter how much you shield them from people of other races and mindsets. And let’s keep in mind that being in an all-Black environment doesn’t prevent people from being discriminatory against their own kind, either.
We have to stop putting HBCUs on a pedestal and start funneling all of our energy into listening to what students have to say about their pain and alienation at school. In this moment, they need our focus, our hearts and our ears more than ever.
Peep some tweets from the conversation on Twitter below: