Washington, DC — This past weekend, we had our annual “Truth and Service” football game at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. There were over 1,600 students, and alumni in attendance from both Howard University and Hampton University, two prominent HBCUs in the DMV area, and two of the biggest rivals in pursuit of who’s “the REAL HU.” The dispute over favoring schools, the camaraderie and social interaction among so many people who look the same was one of the major highlights. It felt as though regardless of school affiliation, being in an area where we could all relate was more meaningful. That is the power of HBCUs, but only an aspect of it.
Every year in the second week of September, we celebrate National HBCU week. This week helps to commemorate the value and importance that these institutions bring to the wider whole of our nation and abroad. Perhaps even more is the role that these institutions play in shaping the lives of the individuals who attend them. HBCUs were created for the sole purpose of providing higher education to Black people who otherwise couldn’t have gotten their education elsewhere.
One may still reasonably ask “why are HBCUs important?” I plan to answer this question.
The role that these institutions play in molding the lives of its individuals plays a big part. After the Civil Rights Movement, these institutions continued to help serve the needs of Black communities. Being in surroundings where you can relate to the people and feel a sense of security is just a natural position we take in everyday life. Such is the same for HBCUs. It’s very important that the students feel as though they are being supported academically and socially by people who can understand them. It’s also important to note that the learning environment is centered around the students and their experiences, and not the other way around. This is vital in that it makes the students feel seen, heard and validated.
HBCUs also help to address the nation’s unemployment rate and economic mobility among African Americans. It is known that African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, yet are highly represented in lower-wage jobs and highly underrepresented in higher-wage jobs. However, research has shown that HBCUs help to advance Black enrollment in higher-wage jobs through enrollment, retention, and graduation. The idea is that with higher rates in each of the former categories, there is likely to be a $10,000 increase Black workers’ incomes.
How HBCUs go about this vision is through partnerships, such as that with the Lumina Foundation, to help support its students growth and retention. I would also like to note that on the topic of outcomes, HBCUs help to produce 80% of Black judges, 50 percent of Black doctors, and 50% of Black lawyers in the country.
Another aspect of HBCUs is that while it is predominately Black, it is still culturally diverse in every sense of the term. For example, with my school, international students make up about 4.6% of the student population. This includes undergraduate and graduate students. Students from all around attend these universities. This helps in the sense that while we all may look the same, our experiences are different. This gives us a chance to learn from them. And of course, anyone is welcome to attend, regardless of race. The biggest thing to keep in mind, however, is the history and value of the institution you are attending.
I failed to mention earlier that Howard lost the game 35-34. It appears as though Hampton can hold the title, for now.
The battle for the real HU will always be a thing, so long as we keep supporting these institutions and others like them. We all have a part to play in making sure that the history of HBCUs is remembered. We also can’t forget some prominent people that came from these institutions, such as civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., TV personality Oprah Winfrey, actor Chadwick Boseman, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris. Let’s keep adding names to the list!
Caleb Brantley (he/his) is a Chicago native who attends Howard University in the nation’s capital.
Edited by Nykeya Woods