Why We Must Put the HBCU vs. PWI Debate To Rest


You know, when I was looking for colleges to apply to, I had certain requirements that were based on what I wanted to do post grad life. I needed a university that was affordable, in-state, with a strong theatre program because at the time, I wanted to be an actress. Whatever college had that to offer to me, I’d take it. It just so happened that that college didn’t happen to be an HBCU.

So you can just imagine the face that I make when other black people who attend HBCUs–a historically black college and/or university–accuse me of being self-hating because I attend a PWI–a predominantly white institution. “You didn’t want to be around other black people.” “You think you’re better because you go to school with white kids.” These are just a couple of things I’ve been told by some black students at HBCUs. I find it hilarious because anyone who knows me, knows I’m unapologetically black–no matter what space I’m in, whether it be predominantly black or white. I keep it consistent wherever I go and it saddens me that people are so quick to negate my pride in my blackness simply because I have white classmates.

On the flip side, you should also see my face when I hear my fellow black PWI peers make pretentious comments about HBCUs. “It’s easier to get a high GPA at an HBCU,” they say, doubting how rigorous academia is at HBCUs. “They don’t belong here,” they say, pointing to a group of black guys wearing hoodies and baggy jeans. Quite a number of PWI students only view HBCUs as hot spots for turn-ups and live homecomings and rarely as a place that produces the most black doctors and lawyers. Some PWI students think that because we go to school with white kids, we’re somehow taken more seriously or we’re better. HA! Cute, ain’t it?

What bothers me about the HBCU vs. PWI argument is that it’s reoccurring and it’s pointless. It also doesn’t allow room for nuance. People don’t even care to ask why I attended the school I’m at. They just jump to conclusions. No one explores the subject in its entirety. We just toss around bias opinions that serve no purpose other than to feed our egos.

I knew the HBCU vs. PWI debate needed to be put to rest when the whole situation with Mizzou occurred. It was very disheartening to see something that could’ve been all around solidarity and unity turned into division and petty bickering among black people. “Well, if you had gone to an HBCU, you wouldn’t be going through this” has to be one of my most favorite arguments. They say it so confidently and they forget to acknowledge that we live in a white supremacist society and white supremacy has the power to infiltrate any space–including predominantly black spaces. Not even five seconds after the threats at Mizzou popped off, white supremacists sent threats to Howard University–a HBCU.

It kills me. When you hear about black students getting death threats from white supremacists, your first reaction is to wag your fingers at the students? I said this on Twitter but I’ll say it again: Instead of telling black students they should’ve gone to an HBCU, you should tell white supremacists that black students should be able to attend any college and be able to receive their education in peace. If you’re about black unity (i.e. the reason why you’re promoting HBCUs right?) shouldn’t your first reaction be to stand in solidarity with the black students at Mizzou? You’re supposedly about black unity but you can only extend unity to black students who attend HBCUs? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

When you start prioritizing where black students attend school over concern for their safety, that’s when you’re no longer about the people but for yourself and your ego.

Let me say right now though. I am thankful for the HBCU students who expressed solidarity with Mizzou.

At the end of the day, we should just salute each other for being in school, pursuing a degree, right? If a black student is at a PWI for anti-black reasons of course, it needs to be addressed but stop grouping all of us in a box. Just because someone attends an HBCU, it doesn’t mean they’re “woke” and just because someone is at a PWI doesn’t mean they’re “sleep.” I know for a fact that I’m wide the fuck awake.

Stop negating one’s pride in their blackness because of where they’re getting their education at and stop putting yourself on a pedestal because you’re in a classroom full of white kids.

Put it to rest and let’s stand in solidarity once and for all.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Monique says:

    This is beautiful. I hate how divide we are just because of little things like skin color or where we attend college. I live in a state that has no HBCUs. So I appreciate this so much. ✊🏽✊🏽✊🏽💪🏽

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