In response to a recent post via Blavity I went to a PWI and still had a black college experience here’s my opinion.
My experience at an HBCU was so much more than fried chicken and spades and it’s slightly insulting that that was the criteria to evaluate whether a student had a full experience at a PWI.
I attended Dillard University, a private HBCU in New Orleans. I chose to attend Dillard after attending spring open house in March 2011. I was impressed by the love everyone had for the institution. When the upperclassmen spoke of their time at Dillard, they had saw significant changes in the person they came in as and the person that would walk the Oaks.
While Dillard has slightly less than 1200 students, I had a rich experience.No, not playing spades in the bottom of Kearny or eating fried chicken and red beans. During my time there I went from shy to speaking in front of large crowds through various leadership positions. What was not mentioned is the pride that the faculty and staff have in the students. They were more excited than I was to tell Dillard president, Dr. Kimbrough that I was accepted into graduate school.
The strong sense of community and belonging was shaped by seeing people that looked like me and having accomplished professors and alumni that also look like me, pour into me. But, it’s more than just that. The environment to do and be whatever you wanted contributed to us flourishing. I remember being told we had all kinds of clubs and organizations and if I didn’t see one I wanted to join, I could start my own. I needed those four years to provide a stable foundation and understand who I am as a person. No, not playing spades in the bottom of Kearny or eating fried chicken and red beans.
Dillard is where I learned how to foster meaningful dialogue about difficult conversations like race, politics and religion. It is also the place where I forged lifelong friendships. During orientation week, Rev. Gail Bowman told a filled lawless chapel of freshmen, “These are the people that will dance at your wedding”. I know if I need something I reach out to the many alum and current students for help. It’s amazing how Dillard can still deposit wisdom and require me to look at situations differently.
…that’s what good relationships are. Relationships that challenge each other, that offer input that each person can walk away with and deploy those lessons learned from those people that we come in contact with…
– Juan Serrano, Dillard University’12, TalkStory (podcast)
No, not playing spades in the bottom of Kearny or eating fried chicken and red beans.
My graduate experience at a PWI was different. Not necessary bad, just different. It didn’t feel like faculty, staff and students were invested into helping all involved get everything they could from the program and institution. It didn’t feel like family. It was a bit disconnected. My relationships with my professors weren’t the same. I chose my words more carefully, as to not feed into stereotypes. There was an awkward class discussion when we discussed implicit biases and I, being one of three black students, described an experience of a woman gripping her purse as I left my apartment. As I described this experience, it seemed that many of classmates had forgot I am Black. Of course I was subjected to macro and micro aggressions and many didn’t understand how I came back with longer hair after spring break, courtesy of a sew-in.
After experiencing both sides of the coin, I still value my HBCU experience more. I was surrounded by more people willing to pour into me and proud to see me blossom. It’s almost akin to chicken soup for the soul. HBCUs are more than lit parties, an abundance of Black people, and comfort food. Granted those things are at HBCUs, but that’s not the crux of my experience or that of others that have attended an HBCU. No, not playing spades in the bottom of Kearny or eating fried chicken and red beans.