In the wake of recent events at the University of Missouri, a troubling trend has emerged on social media. A number of black folks have decided that now is an appropriate time to openly question the college choices of the black students who enrolled at Mizzou, as well as other blacks who attend predominantly white institutions for school rather than HBCUs.
There are few things that I, as a two-time Howard University graduate, cherish more than my experience in the nation's capital at the Mecca. But as much as I hold those memories near and dear, there are few things I can think of that are more offensive in this moment than to suggest to these courageous young people that choosing to attend the University of Missouri is the reason for their turmoil. While it should be obvious why it's inappropriate, here are a few reasons why folks should keep those thoughts to themselves.
1. It's divisive. Listen, there is plenty of time to engage in good-natured banter between HBCU and black PWI alums. Their football teams are usually better, as are our bands … and homecomings. I get it. But on a much deeper level, there is a tendency on both sides to make unfounded assumptions about the type of black student who elects to attend an HBCU or a PWI.
Too many HBCU alums assume that black folks at PWIs have opted to abandon their own culture and are looking to escape their blackness. Similarly, some black PWI alums believe that HBCU alums went to their schools because they didn't have other choices or believe that they received a subpar education. Both assumptions are rooted in ignorant myths and are fraught with underpinnings of insecurity. Also, assumptions like these do nothing but further divide our community. It's like Willie Lynch 2015. Further, at a time when students at the University of Missouri are faced with anonymous death threats, it's completely untimely and inappropriate.
2. It's bad logic. To suggest that these students, because they attended a PWI rather than an HBCU, somehow placed themselves in harm's way is to play a very dangerous game of blaming the victim. Exposure to racism or threats of violence shouldn't be considered a standard expectation anywhere, least of all in an institution of higher learning.
It's deplorable logic to use this as a justification for attending an HBCU (especially in lieu of a litany of other, far better reasons), because racism and bigotry aren't quelled by segregating society. With all students of color attending HBCUs, the problems of racism and white supremacy are not eradicated; if anything, they are just allowed to grow more rampant and unfettered. Using "Go to an HBCU" as an answer to the situation in Mizzou is a dubious, shortsighted solution to a much more complex problem.
3. It takes away from the real issue. Speaking of problems, some of us love to get distracted in the middle of a battle. The issue isn't whether students chose to attend the University of Missouri, Florida A&M University, Yale or Fisk. The issue is that they were placed in a situation where they unified to advocate for themselves as black people, and upon being successful, they are now facing horrendous backlash. These are not experiences that any student should have, regardless of the school he or she opts to attend. That is the issue, plain and simple. Anything else at a time like this isn't worth discussing.
Where someone chooses to spend his or her time and money getting an education is a deeply personal choice that should be respected at all costs. Each of us has a different path that requires unique experiences tailored for who we are as individuals. As much as I would like my HBCU experience to be something everyone could share in, I understand and completely respect why that isn't so. None of us should be made to feel that we must defend or justify our choice of school, so the folks who think that this is the time to have this discussion about why all black students should attend HBCUs should keep those opinions to themselves.
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a civil rights trial attorney, legal analyst and former Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor. He is also a professor of criminal justice at Berkeley College in New York. Follow him on Twitter.