The Great Debate: HBCU vs. PWI

Christina Gardner – The Black Bear

(This story was originally posted February 2015)

Photo credit: James Salone Prairie View A&M University (Historically Black College) taken from the 5th floor of the library and located in the middle of the walking campus.

Photo credit: James Salone
Prairie View A&M University (Historically Black College) taken from the 5th floor of the library and located in the middle of the walking campus.

The college search comes with a wealth of decisions. Would it be best to attend a school in-state or out-of-state? To come in with a major decided or undeclared? Would the environment be better with 30,000 students or 900? For African-American students however, another decision is usually added to the list. The decision is whether to attend an historically black college or university or a predominantly white institution.

This dilemma has been the brunt of Twitter debates as well as discussions regarding whether the HBCU is still necessary.

According to USAToday.com, before the Brown v. Board case desegregated the educational system, 90 percent of all African-Americans were enrolled at a HBCU. In 2011, the number had declined to 12 percent.

Still, the decision is a difficult one for some students. Recognizing the major differences in the universities can help African-American students decide whether they made the right choice.

As far as academia goes, Brianna Moore, who attended Jackson State University her freshman year for college then transferred to Missouri State, says the curriculum is more challenging at MSU, but says that the faculty at Jackson State were more supportive of their students.

“I feel like a good portion of the professors, depending on your major, just give a grade as opposed to you having to work for it, but I can definitely say that they will offer you more of their time and assistance compared to the professors here,” Moore said.

Photo credit: Angela Agaen The Bear statue in front of the plaster student union at Missouri State University

Photo credit: Angela Agaen
The Bear statue in front of the plaster student union at Missouri State University

Malikah Marrus, a faculty member at MSU and a graduate of Fisk University, reinforced this idea. “All of the faculty (at Fisk) were nurturing of the students. If they pushed you to the edge of the cliff, they wouldn’t let you fall,” Marrus said.

Marrus explained that at the HBCUs they attended, African-American history was interwoven into the curriculum.

“All of my history and political science classes has some focus on African-American politics. It wasn’t just a glance over the Civil Rights movement that only focused on Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Marrus said.

The social environment for African-American students at a PWI is built upon the idea that the African-American students have to interact with one another as the minority.

“Here, it’s like we have to stick together because our community is so small,” Moore said. She explained that the reverse of this at HBCUs creates diversity in things other than skin complexion. “I miss standing out because I’m from a different state, not because I’m black.”

Marrus has similar sentiments about the African-American faculty and staff at MSU. “Black faculty tend to stick together and seek each other out to be a support system,” Marrus said.

The major difference Moore pointed out was the emphasis that was put on uplifting African-American people and culture at HBCUs.

“Jackson State, like any HBCU, makes sure that everyone, no matter what, knows the history of African-Americans and the foundation that was built for HBCUs. We are often reminded of where we come from, where we could be and that being at a university is only pushing us further,” Moore said.

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