From the PWI to the HBCU

By Paris Riley

For many students who are currently attending historically black colleges and universities, this is their first experience attending a this type of  institution. For years they spent days in classrooms where no one looked like them. Some of them might never have had any real interactions with other African Americans outside their families and, maybe, a couple friends. For many of these students the transition from a lifetime of predominantly white institutions is difficult, while others find it to be a sort of homecoming.

My experience going from a predominantly white institutions to Howard University, was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I remember my first day of class like it was yesterday. It was truly an exceptional moment for me when I realized that I was not the only, or one of the only, African American students in class. In fact, I was a little taken back by it when I first became aware. After settling in, Howard felt like home. It did not take me long to realize the abundance of benefits that comes from attending an HBCU.

However, this is not the case for every African-American who chooses to attend an HBCU after PWIs. For some the transition is rough. So rough that they feel the need to transfer. Others cannot even fathom the idea of leaving what they know, and therefore, continue their predominantly white institution education.

Danielle Simms, a freshman at Stanford University, knows that idea all too well. During her time attending majority White schools in her hometown of Ohio, Simms felt the way that many Blacks feel attending schools like that. She said that kind of environment put a lot of unnecessary pressure on her. “I constantly felt like I had to prove myself as a Black student. If I failed, I knew that the kids around me were the types of people to generalize my failures to all Black people” said Simms. However, she opted to continue her education in a predominantly White school because even with all the pressure associated, that was still her comfort zone.

What Simms described feeling, though, is not uncommon at all for African-Americans attending PWIs. That is why many choose to break the cycle, like Jasmine Farmer, who attended Spelman College. She chose to attend Spelman because she wanted to “experience something different than [her] upbringing” in a majority white area. She said that her transition was very exciting and she was able to so things she felt she couldn’t in her previous schooling. “I wanted to discuss certain topics related to ‘my history’ without feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to feel what it was like to be the majority for once” said Farmer.

That is an example of the kind of thoughts most who take the HBCU route have. There is a yearning for that sort of inclusion that most who go from PWIs to HBCUs have. More often than not that yearning is satisfied by attending an HBCU, which is why so many brave the transition and see it through because the HBCU experience is absolutely one of a kind.


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