The media plays an immense role in how we perceive the world around us. It is imperative that journalists and news producers remain objective to prevent media bias. Unfortunately, the success rate of this has been significantly low, especially in regards to HBCUs.
Since their founding in the 1800s, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have played an important role in the African-American community. During post-slavery, these institutions provided African-Americans an opportunity to gain access to a quality education.
HBCUs have been a Mecca for black talent. They have produced revolutionary leaders, lawyers, journalists, artists, doctors, and athletes. Even so, HBCUs suffered from diminishment and low regard in the media.
These institutions have had to battle their false reputation as inferior and incompetent compared to traditionally white institutions. This outlook, arguably sustained by media gatekeepers, has definitely carried over into today’s American conversation.
Take some time to think. If you could describe HBCUs in one descriptive word, what would that word be? Whether you have actually attended an HBCU, or have merely heard things about them through news outlets, might influence which adjective comes to your mind.
How the media characterizes HBCUs plays a critical role in their reputation, credibility, funding, and other important factors, so it is vital that they are positively and accurately portrayed.
Predominantly Black publications strive in their efforts to cover HBCUs fairly, but predominantly white publications and news organizations have not.
Is this a prime example of institutional racism? Is it a hidden agenda? Perhaps it is just a simple lack of knowledge and experience.
There is no official reason for this occurrence, but it’s blatant it’s there. Top media outlets such as FOX News rarely recognize HBCU excellence in their broadcasts and articles.
However, such outlets quickly hyperbolize important (and occasionally controversial) issues occurring on HBCU campuses.
The double standard when reporting on HBCUs compared to PWIs needs to cease:
“I think there is a substantial amount of bias when it comes to media and what schools will have the spotlight. And most of the time, media broadcasts the PWI that we all expect to excel.
As far as HBCUs, it’s all about what rapper is coming, possible sexual harassment, and how the schools are losing money. It needs to change because ALL schools, PWIs and HBCUs are going through the same thing.”
— Jeanette Tate, Western Illinois University
A recent example of this is the coverage of the “financial aid scandal” at Howard University.
The story quickly broke nationally and immediately became the number one trending topic on Twitter. While some outlets continued reporting the story with journalistic integrity, some, neglected to fairly cover Howard students occupying the administration building in a nine-day sit-in (the longest in school history).
Those efforts resulted in the university introducing a new statement of commitments, allowing students more inclusion in the university’s decisions. Instead, they showed students playing “B*tch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna and swag surfing (an HBCU tradition).
Undoubtedly, certain media organizations intended to try to make a mockery of the entire situation playing to their readership’s echo chamber of racial animosity.
“[HBCUs] aren’t recognized at all by anybody else but other black schools. Transferring from my HBCU was a choice made because of the lack of the programming they had for the major I wanted. My great-grandfather founded Jarvis Christian College and at one point in time, we had the Jarvisonian newspaper.
It hurt to leave, but I knew if I wanted better for myself, I had to go, but I always promised to come back and restart a journalism program. When I transferred, white students and non-black students didn’t even know HBCUs existed.
They’re not recognized whatsoever in avenues likes sports or programs that compete on the same level as them. Black students at my school recreate a sort of HBCU atmosphere for us. A lot of black PWI students tend to look at HBCU students like they’re less than.”
— Jade Jackson, University of North Texas
HBCUs provide top-tier higher education opportunities for thousands of students each year. They are not solely about entertainment and fun. While we uniquely love our bands, the sense of community at our homecomings, and our soul food Thursdays, we are much more than just those things.
We do provide a quality education. We do build African-American students up—and show confidence in them not shown to them at other points in their lives. We are The Mecca, and we deserve that title!
“I do not think we get enough credit from the media, however, I do feel like the HBCU recognition and value has increased lately! There are plenty of institutions getting nationally acknowledged and the black community is realizing the value of an HBCU experience.”
-Nigel Hammett, North Carolina A&T
Historically Black Colleges and Universities will always represent the state of African-Americans in this country.
Our relentless and tenacious attitude will continue to persevere years beyond today, but this time we will demand our story is not shown through a biased lens.