“I gained confidence from HBCUs … At Berkeley High, I was in the Advanced Math program all the way from freshman year to junior year, and I always felt extremely ostracized,” said Rayna Carter, a BHS alum and current junior at Howard University. “I never felt worthy, and I would often have a lot of breakdowns in that class because I just never felt like I was good enough.”
Every year, around 60 percent of all high school graduates around the country enroll in colleges and universities, and out of that 60 percent, only 12.5 percent are African American. Some Black students that attend Predominantly White Institutions have described feeling isolated and disconnected from their white counterparts and peers. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), strive to provide African Americans a space to be in a community with other Black students. HBCUs provide something important and hard to come by: confidence and a safe environment, both of which are more important than location or prestige.
Carter said that HBCUs provide Black students with extra support and confidence, something many PWIs can’t provide. Right after her freshman year, she landed an internship at Apple.
“I’m a mechanical engineering major with a mathematics minor, and that is an extremely white male dominated field,” Carter said. “If I hadn’t attended an HBCU, I wouldn’t be as confident in myself in opportunities that I think I deserve, and opportunities that I go forward with.”
Historically, HBCUs were created to undo some of the harm that anti-literacy laws and slavery caused, while also giving Black students a safe place without racism. HBCUs were also created to help bridge the many gaps caused by systemic and institutional racism, such as the wage gap between Black and white people, accessibility of jobs for African Americans, and more. HBCUs are a great option for Black students who want to join a community that shares their culture, interests, and more, all while providing a prestigious education.
The United States has 107 HBCUs. A majority of these HBCU schools are in the south and on the southeast coast. Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Virgina, all of which have sizable African American populations, house the majority of HBCUs.
“HBCUs actually have a lot of international students,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of people from the continent of Africa, a lot of people from the Caribbean, even some Afrolatinos, so it’s a lot of different types of Black people and all cultures melding together.” Carter said that the special cultures that HBCUs have developed create a sense of community and safety.
“Culture is at the center of everything that we do (at Howard). It’s the center of our education, whether it be engineering, or history, culture always comes up in the conversation and it’s a big part of our education,” said Carter, on Howard’s culture-centric attitude.
While only three percent of all U.S. colleges are HBCUs, many hold prestigious reputations. Howard University is considered to be the “Harvard of the HBCUs” and is one of the top 100 universities in the country, according to U.S. News. Spelman College, a women’s college located in Atlanta, Georgia, is the 51st best liberal arts college in the US.
HBCUs often lack a lot of the funding that many PWIs receive, reflected in the school infrastructure, with some schools still having non-refurbished heating and cooling units from the 1960s. Despite this, HBCUs provide many more benefits for Black students than Ivy League Schools.
Carter emphasized the value of attending schools that support students personally.
As a final piece of advice, Carter said, “When deciding what school you go to, remember that you can receive a quality education from anywhere, but only certain schools will give you the space, resources and the support you need to feel confident in your abilities; that’s where real success comes from.”