Black schools are figuring out how to respect their missions and transcend labels without begging non-black student saviors to bail them out.
HBCUs increasingly appeal to non-traditional demographics. Many boast competitive tuition, admirable scholarship packages and do the heartfelt recruitment of inclusive institutions. Black schools also continue to racially mix. Some view multiracial HBCU homepages as progress. Others believe the schools sold out.
Howard University grabbed interracial headlines recently because of two white Howard ladies. Current student Alyssa Paddock penned an op-ed in the Washington Post where she discussed her athletic scholarship, heeding her sister’s advice to attend Howard and stepping outside of her comfort zone.
Recent graduate Jillian Parker released “Mr. Football” a song about her tall, strapping black love interest. The video was shot at Howard, and approached 76,000 YouTube views at press time. Paddock and Parker aren’t the point. Institutional success is. And how to go about that success remains complicated.
Black institutions came from struggle. It was illegal to educate people equally across racial lines. Troubling reasons supported these policies. Blacks weren’t viewed as human. Mis-education decreases career competition and networks. It sustains a permanent underclass.
HBCUs teach majoritarian topics and substantive blackness (i.e. more than seemingly docile civil rights Negroes). For people whose histories were stripped because of slavery, these institutions became an immersion in culture, knowledge and affirmations of humanity.
Yet cross-cultural questions recur. In 2009, Hampton University employed a selection panel and chose its first non-black homecoming queen. Nikole Churchill is Italian and Pacific Islander. While some painted the issue as mainly racial (Insert a chorus of “She ain’t black” and neck wags.), Hampton students said that they didn’t vote for her. Hello, panel. They also said that she attended a satellite campus, which meant she lacked serious interaction with most of the students that she represented. Hello, logical issue. Churchill wrote a letter to President Obama for intervention, which only exacerbated the tension, and to many, highlighted her privilege and naiveté. She later apologized.
In 2008, Morehouse’s first white valedictorian Joshua Packwood graduated. Packwood had a rougher story, was reared by a black family, and turned down Columbia University to attend Morehouse.
Countless nameless, faceless non-blacks attended and graduated from HBCUs. Others used them as steppingstones. And that’s what bothers some people. With black institutions being held sacred to many, they want to ensure that entrants have proper intentions. Even so, we cannot uncover gems without risks.
We need background and ideological diversity for well-rounded educations. We don’t need to be so mixture thirsty that HBCUs dive in the wade pool. Example: It’s probably not advisable to prowl hipster hangouts for race and class subjugation empathizing HBCU applicants.
We must sustain our institutions, honor their historical missions and keep them globally viable. This includes steps like the HBCU-Brazil alliance to strengthen Afro-Latino and African American relations while bolstering economic and academic growth. This means reaching out to Latino communities as Dallas’ Paul Quinn College has done. This means inking more deals like the Confucius Institute at Texas Southern and increasing Asian enrollment.
As recent census data indicates that more white Americans died than were born between July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012, it makes fiscal sense to reach out to growing demographics of color including Asians and Latinos.
It also makes sense for HBCUs to continue and increase efforts in West Indian, Central American, South American and African nations. Black, after all, is bigger than American-born and slave-descended.
HBCUs should, however, keep it real, while considering other roles. They can become what Georgetown University law professor Sheryll Cashin calls “culturally dexterous” or “people who welcome diversity.”
We need balanced admissions and organic recruitment. We can’t presume others are better or that we are worse. Ain’t nobody got time for tokenism, imperialism and pretend post-racialism. Yet, bending is not breaking.
Non-traditional applicants and attendees are not automatically voyeuristic culture vultures, playing minority for a spell. They are often students who are open to counter-narratives and ready to learn. Besides, even if they are out of order, in true HBCU fashion, our ranks will tough love them accordingly.