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)

That confidence could come in part from HBCUs’ well-known reputation for being nurturing and engaging. (Interestingly, Steve Derrick Mobley, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education at the University of Maryland-College Park, said research shows that nonblack students at HBCUs enjoy that same benefit.) Or it could just come from being well-prepared academically.

But to convince yourself once and for all, take a look at this study, which concludes, “The treatment effect of graduating from an HBCU relative to a non-HBCU is positive with respect to labor market and psychological outcomes across three decades.”

What else do you really need to hear?

Probably not much, but I do want to touch on the assumption you made about diversity, and the idea that your daughter is going to struggle to interact with “mainstream” America because she’ll be so used to engaging with who you seem to believe will be one particular type of black person at her HBCU.

Not true. First of all, it’s not as if there isn’t diversity among black HBCU students. “There’s religious diversity, diversity in terms of socioeconomic status, country-of-origin status, region of the country, everything from first-generation college students to fifth generation — there’s a tremendous amount of diversity,” says Gasman.

Plus, did you know that 13 percent of HBCU students are white, and the percentages of Latino and Asian students have skyrocketed in recent years? And it just so happens that there are nonblack faces at the front of the classroom, too. “Not only are the student bodies very diverse, but the faculties are some of the most diverse in the country, and that’s a stark difference compared to most predominantly white institutions,” says Mobley.  

And of course, when it comes to exposure to the diverse experiences internationally and domestically, HBCUs, just like any other schools, offer opportunities well beyond the classroom. “Many of our HBCU students take a junior year to travel internationally or do an exchange program with a PWI, so if there’s a concern about a multicultural experience, that’s an option,” says Malveaux.

Feel better? I hope so. I absolutely understand that you want the best for your daughter and would hate to see her at a disadvantage of any kind. But it seems to me that if she picks up on your anxiety about how she’ll fare in the world as a black person, it could give her a sense of deficiency and self-consciousness that would only compound whatever actual bias she faces in her postcollege life.  

Your daughter could probably do just fine at any school. But at this point, she’s already at an HBCU, and there’s definitely no evidence that it’s going to harm her. She should stay. As a bonus, she might get an education about how her racial identity and community are more than just burdens that threaten to hold her back if she doesn’t manage them properly. If so, I hope she passes that lesson on to the rest of the family.

The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

Need race-related advice? Send your questions to racemanners@theroot.com.

Previously in Race Manners: “Will Dancer Daughters End Up Like Miley?”