Which brings me to a set of questions: is the white student presence on these campuses a racial move forward, or is it all a joke or a conversational topic to be raised over brunch years from now? Will the stories of being a white student at a majority-Black college be sandwiched between summers in the Hamptons and post-grad backpacking through Europe? Is attending an HBCU for white students the equivalent of spending a summer in Ghana? Is a white person who sets out, decides, applies and then attends an all-black-university the equivalent of a Darwinesque social experiment? And, does practicing a minority get anyone closer to understanding the daily struggle of being a minority? Let’s face it; the white student who would even consider attending an HBCU is not the student who is need of a strong dose of black cultural awareness because they already have it.
Parker, a graduate of HU and the singer of “Mr. Football,” was quoted in this piece as saying, “I really enjoy being unique and for that reason I appreciate my experience. I feel as though you have a bit more notoriety being so different at a place like this.” What uniqueness and notoriety would that be? Being white in a non-white environment? I am not asking these questions to be indignant but I really don’t understand. Is whiteness a talent?
Alyssa Paddock’s essay, “Why I chose to attend a historically black college-as a white person,” left me with questions than answers. In it she writes that she considered Howard, “…as a way to step out of my comfort zone and experience being a minority.” This statement feels like the equivalent of playing homeless for sociology class credit. And it got me wondering metaphorically speaking: how homeless can a college student be if they are only one phone call away from a hot meal?
The fact is HBCUs have never been just learning institutions. They have the daunting mission of not only educating but also, fostering a sense of self and purpose in black students who once were denied education because of the color of their skin.
Now that all colleges and universities across the country are open to those who have the grades, SAT scores and money, many black students still choose HBCUs to feel the connected morbid uniqueness that only a history of racial oppression can create. Those that attend are bound in the solidarity that once they leave the campus they are a part of a world that may grossly misjudge them because of their skin but on campus amongst the brethren they are safe. It is this that makes me wonder what really makes an HBCU attractive to white high school students?