Those are the letters I keep seeing in bold print across the chests of two students who attend my high school in Atlanta. My classmates in their sweatshirts are like a walking embodiment of the choice lots of students are making right now: one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), or a state school?
But let me back up. In my case, to call it a “choice” is slightly misleading. While lots of factors are shaping my college decision, one of the biggest is money. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m the poorest kid in the world, but currently, I’m only rich in innovative ideas, potential, and the drive to be successful. Plus I’ve got a decent GPA. What I don’t have, is all of the loot.
When I realized that colleges don’t offer full-ride scholarships through recruitment mail, I stopped opening the dozens of envelopes flooding my mailbox. I didn’t want to let myself fall in love with a campus or start fantasizing about how the sweatshirt would look on my Instagram account because there was no way I could afford it.
In addition to my financial situation, my high school is also a major influence on my college choice. I go to a diverse and creative high school in the center of the melting pot of Atlanta, Georgia. We have people of all races and from all over the city, from the hood to rich areas with million-dollar houses, and everyone is together. I want my college to reflect that same atmosphere.
Which is one reason I put HBCUs on my college “To NOT do list.”
My being African American and not showing any interest in an HBCU is surprising to most. But not to my mom, even though she went to Tuskegee University. She understood I’m looking for a more diverse college experience than the one she had.
Just this month in my Speech and Forensics class, we watched an animated video on Brown vs. Board of Education, something that we have been familiarized with a million times over, and it showed–with so many of my classmates engulfed in their phones. Still, the message about segregation definitely was not lost on me. Remembering that history helped me to be even more confident in my opinion on HBCUs retreating from the end-goal of desegregation we have strived so long for.
I hope that my statement is not misjudged. I know HBCUs have become more diverse, and I totally respect and understand why they were created — to give African American people a chance to get an equal education when they had no other option. If I were around when they were established, I would have appreciated that, and I still do. But my choice has changed, because the world has changed.
When I called my father to tell him I didn’t want to commit to an HBCU, he told me he didn’t want me to. My dad didn’t attend college and feels he was deprived of so many opportunities he deserved. He worries that I would also face discrimination, after graduating from an all black college.
So in the end, I’m heading to Georgia State University. I’m still working out the financial aid package, but I’m hopeful that I’ll qualify for a full ride. I know I’ll be testing the waters there, because I truly don’t know what it’s going to be like. When I arrive on campus, I’ll look around and see what needs to be done, and what I need to do for myself to further my journey in this life. And if I feel like there are aspects of campus life that need to change–related to race or anything else–I’ll work to make that change happen.
Because isn’t that what college is all about?
This is the full version of Josh’s essay, which appears in shorter form as part of Youth Radio’s partnership with the New York Times Race/Related.