Will an HBCU Make My Kid Too Black?

No, and such assumptions about these schools suggest you might be the one who needs an education.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) —

“My daughter is now entering her second year at a top historically black college. She has done well so far, but her father and I have realized that compared to the environment in which she grew up (we live in a mostly white area with some community members of different backgrounds and nationalities), she has a very different life experience now. To be blunt, all of her close friends and the women who are in the sorority she will likely join, as well as the majority of her classmates, are black.

“We made a point not to raise her in a segregated area, and I’m now worried she may be losing those abilities to interact with ‘mainstream’ America after her HBCU experience when she enters the job market. Her father worries about her becoming ‘too black’ and I want her to be prepared for the real world, and I’m afraid she’s not living in it at this time. Do you think we should consider a transfer for her based on these concerns?” –Thinking About Switching Out of an HBCU

The answer to whether I think your daughter should switch schools midcollege because of your concerns is simple: No.  

And it’s not because I don’t think you should seek out the best-possible educational experience that will offer the best fit and the greatest advantages to her. Not at all. I assume your family thought through all that when you were considering a variety of HBCUs and other schools (often referred to as “predominantly white institutions,” or PWIs, if you want to be evenhanded with the acronym) a couple of years ago.

But I do think and hope that you might cease to worry about this “too black” and “prepared for the real world” stuff once we clear up some of the assumptions underlying this whole dilemma.

The first one I’d push back on is the idea that the preparation offered at HBCUs is inferior to that offered at PWIs because of HBCUs’ mostly black student bodies. (Since there are 105 HBCUs across the country, with varying rankings, missions and levels of resources, just as there are all different types of PWIs, I think it’s important to be clear that we’re comparing schools that are ranked similarly to what you’ve described as a “top” HBCU, with the exception of the race thing.)

“HBCUs offer phenomenal education, so a parent should not be concerned that graduating from an HBCU would limit a student’s opportunities,” says Julianne Malveaux, former president of Bennett College.

Plus, says Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, they’re not a bad way to prepare for the next degree your daughter might want. “Most black students who are at elite graduate schools come from the Ivy League or from elite HBCUs. If you’re running around at Harvard, you’re going to see students from Spelman, Morehouse, Howard, Hampton … Those schools have a pretty rich track record of sending students to grad school,” she says.

And they’re not just there; they’re doing just fine. “Students at more selective HBCUs do incredibly well at highly selective organizations for graduate schools,” Gasman explains, adding that when it comes to HBCU students who have enrolled in her institution’s graduate program, she’s observed that “they can flow in and out, they are really self-confident and they can easily code-switch.”