Take Your Pick: HBCU or PWI

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Predominantly White Institutions (PWI) may have an impact on how Black students engage with their academic environment.

A PWI, as defined by the US Department of Education, is any university that is considered to have “historically white” students making up 50% or more of the student body. “[…] any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose major objective was, and is, the education of Black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency […]” is how the US Department of Education defines an HBCU.

PWIs, or primarily white institutions, are renowned for refusing admission to minority students. Therefore, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established as a resource for people who were not admitted elsewhere as a result of the unfairness shown to them.

So, the question arises: Do Black students who do not attend historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) have less Black identity than Black students who do?

From my own personal experiences, I thought that attending an HBCU would be my only chance to blend in when I was applying to colleges. It would be important for me to surround myself with people who resembled me because of their comparable backgrounds, campus culture, and way of life.

However, I had my personal motivations that guided my decision to attend FAU. Overall, FAU was the better decision for me financially and it was through this that I realized why a PWI might be better for Black students.

Victoria Jean Jullien, a graduate student in the Biomedical Sciences Program, says that she chose a PWI over an HBCU because of the curriculum in her degree program. 

“Choosing a PWI allowed me more access to financial aid awards that would assist me in paying for my degree. FAU has allowed me the ability to grow my leadership amongst people that look like me but also people who don’t look like me,” Jullien says.

PWIs give students the cultural exposure they need to be able to work with diverse people when they enter the workforce. They also provide more scholarship money and better learning facilities. But the most important factor is that they allow students to truly discover who they are, while surrounded by people from completely different backgrounds and lifestyles.

“I think that a lot of people assume HBCUs get special treatment and funding from the government because they are the minority when the privilege of going to a PWI cannot be understated or compared to the access of resources, help, and connections are infinitely better at the majority of PWI’s from my own personal experience. Federal funding is a necessity for HBCUS to attempt to catch up with the generational wealth many PWIs have in their pockets,” says Devon, a freshman majoring in Business Marketing.

Black college students are compelled to reflect deeply on who they are and what they want to do with their lives because they will be surrounded by strangers. 

Being at a PWI allows us to participate in a variety of clubs that we might not have access to at an HBCU. The variety of clubs offered to students allows them to choose from a greater range of activities throughout their time in college and to accommodate all facets of student life on campus.

I, personally, was ignorant of many of the groups and events on campus for Black students at the time. These areas can be a resource where students can interact, connect, and form bonds. The Black Student Union, NAACP, and even the Caribbean Student Association, which are all clubs I am a part of, are just a few examples. In addition to this, when students band together on campus, particularly at a PWI, they are more likely to be noticed than those at an HBCU.

Other students at FAU have had similar experiences. 

 “When I was researching top Business Schools in Florida, FAU was one of the first schools to appear…I feel like the organizations I have joined provided me with support as a black student. In regard to FAU as a whole, we still need to work on improving diversity and inclusion on campus,” says Jayden Gadson, a junior in Public administration and President of Progressive Black Men Inc.

Now looking at this as a senior, I do not regret my decision of deciding to attend FAU. Attending a PWI compelled me to push myself. My experience improved as soon as I discovered the organizations that made me feel at home. I eventually found my community inside the larger community I was a member of after making the extra effort.

Despite the fact that this is my own experience, it’s vital to recognize that not everyone has the same circumstances. Some Black PWI students do not have the resources, support, and direction that I do. In their own institution, others are treated terribly and made to feel unwelcome. 

I think HBCUs are great institutions, and many powerful black leaders have come out of them. When Black students weren’t able to attend PWIs, HBCUs had the exclusive aim of educating and advancing black students’ education. It’s incredible that those universities are still around. People that are interested in discovering or exploring their Black identity might consider attending an HBCU.

So the question remains: Does the fact that I didn’t go to an HBCU imply I’m rejecting my race and those who helped me get an education?

Because FAU had the diversity I was looking for, I chose it. So even though I might not fully feel being Black, I will still be able to interact with people of all racial backgrounds, religious beliefs, ethnic origins, and cultural traditions. Despite the fact that I attend a PWI, this neither makes me more or less “Black” than a student at an HBCU. Education is education, regardless of where it is received, in the end.

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