Historically black colleges and universities have been educating students, the majority of them being African American, for centuries now. I am a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University located in Charlotte, N.C. There are hundreds of graduates of HBCUs who have achieved prominence at every level. The employment landscape is full of men and women who are graduates of these fine institutions.
In addition to fostering academic excellence, HBCU’s have many traditions that are on display each year. For example, the homecoming festivities at Johnson C. Smith University and other black colleges and universities bring back graduates and friends each year and for three days we momentarily go back to the good old days. Those were days when we would “hang on the block,” attend chapel and get to know our teachers.
I can remember vividly when I would be able to talk with our president, Dr. Lionel H. Newsome. Dr. Newsome had a great influence on me as he always emphasized high ideals and lofty goals. Many graduates of black colleges and universities can say that they were mentored by their college president. The mentoring and personal relationships are reasons that many students choose to attend an HBCU. When you are 17 and 18 years old, you need someone with a guiding hand and words of wisdom. Some will argue about the axiom of personal responsibility and to some extent, I agree. However, there are large numbers of college students who lack the maturity to make good decisions and therefore need hands-on attention. All you have to do is look at the issue of alcohol that is problematic for many colleges across the country.
One of the hallmarks of black colleges and universities is the dedicated faculty and staff. These men and women, both black and white, are saying by their continued presence and pursuit of academic excellence for their students that these institutions are viable and valuable. Back in the day there were many faculty and staff who lived on or near campus and thus made the educational bond between them and their students even stronger. Faculty and staff, sometimes without the necessary resources, made sacrifices in order to see their students prosper and succeed.
There are currently more than 100 HBCUs in the country and their primary goal continues to be helping students to be successful. The vast majority of these schools are located in the South. Schools like Johnson C. Smith University, Dillard University, Texas Southern University, Bennett College and Winston-Salem State University have students enrolled from literally all over the world. It is safe to say that multiculturalism thrives on these campuses. The reputations of these schools has generated this diverse mix of students, faculty and staff. Over time more students, including white students, have chosen to enroll at HBCU’s. Most recently the top graduate in the class of 2008 at Morehouse College was white. White students are selecting these students because they feel that they can receive the individualized attention and instruction that they need in order to be more competitive in the ever changing workforce.
Alumni are also an important element to HBCUs as we serve as recruiters and ambassadors. Many alumni attend college fairs and go into high schools on behalf of their alma maters. It is not unusual for alumni to sponsor trips and scholarships for prospective students. You can go into almost every state in the union and find a graduate chapter for your institution. As resources become tighter it will become even more important for alumni to contribute to the well being of their college and university.
It is my strong contention that the continued support of historically black colleges and universities is critical and crucial to our country. We need these schools; our students need these schools.
Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.
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