Spelman College boasts the world’s greatest network of professional black women in business, arts and science. But if you didn’t go to Spelman, do you know where the fiber optics of that network begin and end? Spelman is a national leader among all universities in graduation rates, alumnae giving, job placement and graduates earning masters and doctoral degrees. Each woman who pays for and earns a Spelman degree, seemingly, increases the statistical likelihood her professional and personal satisfaction for a lifetime.
So how is it that Jasmine Davis, a young woman who wanted every part of that Black American dream, wound up living at and loving the University of Alabama?
..coming out of high school those things described Spelman College for me. Spelman was the apple of my eye; it wasn’t until my mother urged me to come to The University of Alabama that things changed. In hindsight my freshman year can be characterized as a love-hate relationship with the University. Although I say it was love-hate, it leaned more so on the hate side. I can remember going to Bama Bound and dreading every moment of it, waking up going to class not because I truly wanted to but because it was an obligation in order to keep my scholarship. If I could describe my freshman year in one word, it would be dreadful.
Suddenly I had an epiphany one day of the many days of crying I just stopped and asked myself “aren’t you tired?” At that point, I was tired of crying, tired of being upset and tired of being sad. I decided to take full advantage of the proverbial Latin phrase “carpe diem.” I decided to seize the day and make the most of my college experience. Day by day my appreciation for The University of Alabama grew fonder and in the end, my experiences surpassed anything I could ever imagine.
Davis doesn’t describe in detail the culture which made her dread going to Alabama, or the experiences which built her resilience in completing her degree there. But two things stand out; she earned and seemingly kept a scholarship at Alabama, and that her mother is the one who convinced her to go in the first place.
We don’t know the difference in admissions processing, household financial status, availability of major, or geography; but thousands of people who will read this will simply read the headline and not between the lines of her column will propagate Facebook falsehoods devoid of much-needed context: that either this family sold out, or that one of our best HBCUs doesn’t stack up against the money, the resources or the prestige that Alabama, or any other large predominantly white college, has to offer.
We keep thinking that recruitment begins and ends with students. The key is in talking to parents, mentors and guidance counselors. These are the folks who raise or help to guide high achieving students like Jasmine Davis, and help to either pay or find money to pay for college education.
These are the folks who realize that historically black prestige is not greater than affordability and career prospects tied to the major printed on the degree. One student who enters and completes Spelman equals $180,000 in revenue over four years. Costs aren’t going down any time soon, but are HBCUs convincing parents and students about HBCU post-graduation benefits? Are they offering the array of programs which students want to get good jobs, and impact their communities?
Most of them are are – we just rarely hear about them outside of our student and alumni galaxies. If you didn’t go to Spelman, don’t regularly visit their website or regularly hear about Spelman from a relative, family friend, coworker or church member who is a Spelman graduate, do you have the exposure needed to cement Spelman as a top college option?
Spelman doesn’t have the marketing machine of big athletics, television commercials and expanded social media presence. Like most HBCUs, it relies mostly on word of mouth, direct engagement, and the historic resonance of its brand power in black communities.
And depending upon the black community in which you live, names like Spelman, Howard, Morehouse, Hampton, Fisk and Tuskegee no longer shift the balance of where students or tuition money wind up, especially since large PWIs are working daily to infiltrate the hearts of black families through sports, community engagement, and by selling their own falsehoods about diversity.
Jasmine Davis, her mother and everyone in their circle did a good job in getting her to and through college. And while she may have had a more enjoyable, more enriching experience at Spelman, she is fortunate to have found a resilience that will likely carry her through a winding path to a fulfilling career in public health. Her family deserves no blame or shame for her choice, or the joy she now finds in becoming an Alabama alumna.
But if there is something HBCUs can do to capture more students like Jasmine, to find them earlier, to make them more resolved in choosing HBCUs, now is the time to do it. Numbers may now show growing interest in black colleges in the midst of the national Black Lives Matter movement, but when Jasmine grows up and has a daughter of her own, which will be the school of choice for her and her child – Spelman or Alabama?