According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 14 percent of Black college graduates are Historically Black College or University (HBCU) alums. They’re a lucky bunch. HBCUs, which were founded prior to integration, are still the top producers of Black medical students (thanks to schools such as Xavier University); account for 50 percent of all Black lawyers and 80 percent of Black judges; and, are the alma maters of 40 percent of Black engineers. Most important, these schools are creating industry leaders despite a significant lack of resources—HBCUs’ endowments are 1/8 of the average size of comparable white colleges and universities. There are many reasons that these institutions remain a success, but their continued legacy of Black excellence is summed up in one word: pride. HBCUs thrive because they create an environment where Black culture is normalized, and celebrated.
The fact that Black college and university alum defy odds proves that being the best isn’t about what you have, but what you believe is possible. CASSIUS asked a few HBCU alum about the campus experiences that shaped their lives, and narrowed it down to the memories all participants noted as defining moments. Whether you’re nostalgic over your Black college days, or wondering what you missed, here are seven things that can only happen at an HBCU.
1 Mandatory African American History
Outside of slavery and the Civil Rights movement, the contributions African Americans have made in history is largely absent in most academic curriculums. HBCUs don’t play that. Most require all students to take at least one full semester course about the history of African Americans. Learning the truth about your history shifts how you feel about yourself, and perseverance.
HBCUs have a strong pledge culture. The Divine Nine aren’t the only organizations building undergrads up after class. At Black colleges, students engage in rituals connected to everything from their dormitory to the band. Being a part of most things at an HBCU is a “process”. This grooming helps build long last friendships and reinforces the culture and history of the institution.
3 The Game Starts At Halftime
Sports are great, but at HBCUs you don’t go to the game to watch the team—it’s all about the band! Black colleges have a rich tradition of entertaining halftime shows that integrate classic and modern hits, with coordinated dance routines. Band members have as much clout on the field as athletes. And, if you miss the battle of the bands during halftime you missed the game.
4 Homecoming is Life
The fall is a special time of the year at HBCUs. Homecoming isn’t just a time for parties and to rub elbows with the biggest stars of the time, it’s also a period when campus stars flex their muscles. Campus queens and kings are crowned, the approved Divine Nine organizations compete in step shows and the yard, or central campus, is where you prove your style is supreme.
The media portrays Blacks as a monolithic group, with the leading storyline being one of poverty. Black colleges prove that is not the case. Not only are students exposed to African Americans from all religions and social economic groups across the United States, they’re also introduced to the best from the Black Diaspora. An HBCU student will have classmates that include: a Nigerian factory heir, the nephew of Jamaica’s Governor-General and the child of social worker from Detroit. HBCUs are the top producers of Black urban professionals (aka buppies)—and they roll tight post graduation—who support each other fiercely in the business arena.
6 You Gotta Learn The Black National Anthem
Whether it’s your dorm, an extracurricular activity or AA history class, at some point during your tenure at an HBCU you will memorize the Black National Anthem—and love it.
7 School Pride
Repping your school—or a favorite one— is a must. It starts with paraphernalia but doesn’t end there. Every single HBCU has a chant. It’s a unique greeting that’s only exchanged between students and/or alum. It’s their way of expressing school pride, camaraderie, a little elitism and…everyone wants to be down.