(Todd A. Smith)
Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have almost become a rite of passage in my family.
I received my bachelor’s degree from Southern University and my master’s degree from Texas Southern University (TSU).
My parents both received their bachelor’s degrees from Southern University and their master’s degrees from Texas Southern University.
But although those choices proved the perfect places for my parents and I, it does not mean that it is the best choice for all African-American students.
And African-American students who choose to attend a predominantly White institution (PWI) should not face ridicule for trying to bring some African-American flavor to predominantly White spaces.
In all actuality, that practice has gone on since the early 20th century.
Monique Judge of The Grio wrote, “A young Black woman student at the University of Southern California made headlines last week when the dance group she helped co-found went viral after their first performance during a football game at Fresno State.
“The video Princess Isis Lang posted to her own Twitter account went viral and was met with mixed reactions. While there were many who praised her efforts to bring and celebrate Blackness in a predominantly White space, there were others who criticized the dance troupe, with some going so far as to say she was ‘stealing Black culture.’ How one can steal one’s own culture is still baffling to me, and if you have an explanation for it, I would like you to break it down for me like I am a 5-year-old because I don’t get it.”
Neither do I, sister.
But the criticism the Southern Cal student has received baffles me in more ways than one.
Many online haters have said that this sister should have attended an HBCU if she wanted to enjoy Black culture.
Others have said that organizations and groups made popular at HBCUs should remain exclusively at HBCUs.
All those arguments are asinine, as are any others that criticize African-Americans for choosing to attend whatever colleges they choose to.
For me, my experience at Southern could not have been duplicated at a PWI.
Growing up in schools that were either equally mixed or predominantly White, attending Southern was the first experience in my life in which African-American culture was not just tolerated, but celebrated.
I often tell the story of how at my racially diverse high school, the only song played by an African-American artist at our prom, that I can recall, was “Betcha By Golly Wow” by Prince.
However, a few months later, every song I heard on campus was from an African-American artist ranging from Master P and his No Limit Soldiers to anything by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, thanks to the “Human Jukebox” band from Jaguar-Land.
When I transitioned to graduate school at Texas Southern, the professors that I had (all of color) really fostered my growth as a journalist and even hired me as an adjunct professor once I graduated.
Honestly, I do not think a PWI would have given me that much love and assistance.
Therefore, the decision to attend two HBCUs were the perfect choices for me.
However, everyone is not Todd A. Smith.
While teaching at Texas Southern, one of my older colleagues caught flak from other professors at Texas Southern University for sending his son to Texas A&M University to pursue a degree in veterinary science.
Although TSU did not offer a veterinary science degree, many TSU professors still believed that he should have sent his son to an HBCU, preferably TSU.
By that logic, his son should have pursued a degree in a program that he had no interest in, just to say that he attended an HBCU.
His dreams would have been thrown in the garbage, just so that he could do something for the culture or prove how conscious he was.
That makes no sense whatsoever.
I hear you though.
I am pretty sure some HBCU offers a degree in veterinary science.
But what if that school was out-of-state and those out-of-state fees were too much for the family to afford?
What if Texas A&M gave him a scholarship?
What if traveling to a far-off state to attend college made getting back and forth too expensive?
To some it does not matter.
He should have chosen an HBCU even if it adversely impacted his life.
What sense does that make to people who have common sense?
Unfortunately, those who do not believe that African-American groups like dance teams, majorettes or pep squads should exist at PWIs must not know the history of several predominantly African-American fraternities and sororities.
Three of the Divine Nine organizations (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.) all started at PWIs.
I cannot speak for all.
However, I can speak for my fraternity.
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, started on the campus at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., so that the African-American male students could have some normal college experience.
Because of racism and segregation, African-American students were excluded from many activities on the predominantly White campus.
Starting the fraternity gave them a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie and a respite from racism.
In fact, the first predominantly African-American Greek-letter organization to last (Alpha Phi Alpha) was founded at a PWI, Cornell University.
So, if groups founded at HBCUs cannot exist at PWIs, should African-American Greek-letter organization be outlawed at HBCUs since the first began at a PWI?
And what about the fact that we borrow from Greek culture in naming such organizations?
All cultures and races borrow from each other.
Furthermore, attending college should expose students to different cultures, races, ethnicities, religions, etc.
Therefore, exposing others to various cultures (including African-American culture at PWIs) is a rite a passage too, and should be welcomed at all colleges and universities, not just HBCUs.