Is My Child Cut Out for an HBCU?

Ask Dr. Lomax: Mentors can help black students from white high schools ease into their new campus culture.

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(Special to The Root) ---

"My daughter is a senior at a predominantly white private Catholic high school. I'm concerned that she won't 'fit in' if she chooses to attend a HBCU. She has applied to a few. How do I prepare her for that transition?" --Javonna Askew

You're raising an important question. There will be a change in culture from high school to college. And while that's true of every new student, it will be a bit different for your daughter because she's learned different habits of socialization from her high school experience. 

Two things will help. First is finding a mentor. She should reach out, directly or through Facebook or Twitter, to the admissions office at the college she picks and ask for help in connecting with an alumna or upperclasswoman in your community so she can share her concerns and learn about the campus culture. Or she can connect to others in her community whom she meets on Facebook or Twitter and form a posse that can be a buffer for her in those first key weeks and months while she is making her way.   

The good news is that many HBCU students are like your daughter, coming from predominantly white high schools, and HBCUs have years of experience making the transition not only comfortable but also enriching and even transformational. In fact, a study (registration required) we did last year at UNCF indicated that exploring their culture with classmates who are making the same journey is often the reason these students pick an HBCU.

HBCUs see encouraging that process as part of their core mission. And studies show that they succeed. African-American students who go to HBCUs report more engagement with faculty, more supportive social environments, greater development in critical thinking and an overall more satisfactory experience than their counterparts who attend non-HBCUs.

You don't mention which HBCUs your daughter is looking at, but there are several that might be particularly good fits:

* Xavier University in New Orleans is the country's only Catholic HBCU and could provide an excellent opportunity for your daughter to connect to her faith as an African-American Catholic. It has a diverse student body, including many Asian Americans. Xavier students pursue a wide range of majors, but it specializes in preparing students for careers in medicine and pharmacy.

* Spelman College in Atlanta and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., are both women's liberal arts colleges with fine academic reputations and a mission to help women develop both as students and as people.

* Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Hampton University in Virginia are larger than the three named above, and both are fine institutions with big-university environments.

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