Questioning HBCU Relevance

By Pierre Louvins

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were originally created for a simple purpose. To allow African Americans an equal opportunity to higher education. Prior to HBCUs, segregation kept many African Americans deprived of a proper education. The idea of asking for a fair and equal education could have gotten you swift retaliation. HBCUs served the role of being a safe environment for black people not only to have access to proper higher education, but also learn in a comfortable setting surrounded by likeminded others. However, fast forward to today and we find that legal segregation is gone and that higher education institutions campaign for increased diversity and inclusion. Some now ask the question; are HBCUs needed anymore? Critics argue their claim that most HBCUs are struggling financially to offer their students an education on par with Predominately White Institutions (PWIs).

A graduate student majoring in Public Health Administration, who preferred to remain anonymous said that HBCUs are not needed because they act as a dividing wall by separating African Americans from others. “The world is not just black and I believe that it is a mistake to maintain schools targeting just the black population.” This student continued to say that the lack of funding hampers the range of programs and amenities at these schools. “Other than Howard, Spellman, Hampton and a few others, HBCUs struggle to provide the tools and services to maximize the educational experience of their students.”

For the most part, I disagree with he assessment. However, it was important for this blog to be open to an opposing perspective.

I say that HBCUs are indeed needed. You can say that I am biased, since I attend an HBCU (Tuskegee University). However, I will contend that before coming to this institution, that I did not know what HBCUs were about, why they were created, or what the big deal was. Honestly, I did not care about Tuskegee University being an HBCU. The only piece of information I knew about Tuskegee University was that the graduates go on to great graduate degree programs and earn jobs at premier companies. Students here, despite having a lack of resources, find a way to do amazing work. There are times when even I complain about not having certain things, but it never has discouraged me or left me thinking I did not have everything I needed to succeed.

Edward Brown Jr., Chief of Staff at Tuskegee University stated “HBCU’s remain one of the nation’s gems in higher education.  The question of whether or not they are needed is an age-old question that in and of itself is very subjective and borderline offensive.” He continued that “HBCU’s continue to award more than 22% of bachelor’s degrees to African Americans.  This figure speaks boldly to the question regarding the continued need of institutions that have, as of 2015, produced 40% of black engineers, 50% of black lawyers and 80% of black judges.”

Guerly Alexis, junior nursing major offered her opinion on the importance of HBCUs. “Black culture is critically important to the world’s culture. I love how professors infuse the black perspective in every subject because it is important to learn how our ancestors shaped history. Without black history and culture, there is no history at all.”

Edward Mercado, graduating senior majoring in political science states that HBCUs are without a doubt still needed. “No other institution will give as many opportunities to black people as HBCUs have. Being of Afro Latino decent, I have learned so much about my own identity and history from the black lens.”

At the end of the day, I do believe that you can go to many other schools both HBCUs and PWIs to have a great college experience. As a person of African descent, I want to know more about my own people. Attending Tuskegee, I always hear about subjects from the black perspective, which to be quite honest is refreshing. Too often, everything is told from a white person’s point of view. There is nothing wrong with that, but to get a clearer picture of the truth, you need more than one dominant perspective. HBCUs, in my opinion have been especially useful in infusing perspectives of black people who have been marginalized throughout history.