Google ‘HBCU homecoming’ and here’s what you get.
— Wayne A. I. Frederick (@HUPrez17) October 22, 2017
What you don’t see much of is this.
It’s wonderful to celebrate homecoming for exactly what is – the exaggerated, enhanced version of everything good about the emotional experience of historically black colleges. But too often, homecoming is the cornerstone of America’s perception of HBCUs, and while it is an extension of the experience, we can’t afford for HBCU homecoming to be our institutional definition as our campuses are losing audience with our own base and a changing identity of higher education.
No matter how many parties are thrown or how ratchet the city gets, no one mistakes CBC Week as the best and most identifiable element of the Congressional Black Caucus. No one mistakes NBA All-Star weekend as the best part of the league or its product. No one confuses the University of Alabama’s tailgating culture as the linchpin of its athletic program, or the inaugural ball as the what makes the American presidency important to the fate of the free world.
But if you let Google tell it, HBCU students, graduates and leaders are way too willing to let our homecomings represent the best of what we have to offer. We have not distinguished HBCU homecoming as a moment; an aspect of who we are and what we do. And because of that, we are represented in media and cultural narrative by our parties and marching bands, not the scholars and industrial influencers who throw these parties once a year, but who change the world 51 other weekends throughout the year.
So many of us are willing to share our overwhelming feelings about homecoming, but are nowhere to be found when it comes to sharing why HBCUs matter in the same space, with the same amount of passion and insight. And maybe that’s because we don’t realize the economic impact of HBCUs on dozens of black communities and black professionals worldwide. Maybe because institutional value is not something we can buy and wear, smell and taste, hear and dance to; so it doesn’t occur to us that repping our schools requires more than showing face on the yard or making sure Snapchat has filters for our special weekends.
Maybe our own schools don’t communicate their academic, social, political and financial value to us, so we don’t feel compelled to find the information and share it with as many people as we can. Whatever the reason, we should be keenly aware that enemies of HBCUs are celebrating homecoming just as hard as we are, because while we are focused on the event, they are focused on the ease with which we can be distracted while policy marginalizes our very existence.
While we are repping, they are creating scholarships to direct high school graduates to community colleges and predominantly white campuses. While we are strolling through vendor village, they are auditing our campuses at uneven rates to find reason for executive disruption and to reduce funding.
While we are celebrating the family atmosphere, they are thinking about how they can duplicate or eliminate our academic programs which give us any shot at attracting corporate partnerships or federal funding, or building transformational wealth among our graduates.
But most of all, they are hoping that we’ll consider these words to be a killjoy, or an unnecessary thinkpiece to counter Black Homecoming Excellence. Because they know we’ll be right back next year for one more weekend, one more year of not paying attention to the bigger picture.
If we keep this up, soon many of us will not have homes to come back to. And we’ll blame it on everything and everyone else who wasn’t around while we were partying.