What the heck are HBCUs anyway?

Sep 09 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

If you are like me, you either have no idea what a Historically Black College and University is or only the vaguest understanding. Abel Pharmboy of Terra Sigillata has posted a very nice review of the history, purpose, demographics and famous alumni of HBCUs in honor of National HBCU Week.
One of the most interesting things that I learned from Abel were some statistics pulled from this by Michelle J. Nealy:

While HBCUs represent only 3 percent of all colleges and universities, they enroll close to one-third of all Black students. Forty percent of HBCU students pursue four-year degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, and about half of all Black students in teaching fields attended HBCUs. Three-quarters of all African-American Ph.D.s did their undergraduate studies at an HBCU, and, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, the total economic impact of the nation's HBCUs in 2001 was $10.2 billion.

Go read.
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Update 9/17/08: Reflections on the HBCU experience from Samia of 49 percent.

7 responses so far

  • Becca says:

    Is it weird for white people to want to work at HBCU?
    In any event, those numbers are almost enough to make me wonder what going to a woman's college would have been like.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Is it weird for white people to want to work at HBCU?
    This commenter doesn't seem to think so.
    why "weird"? Is it weird for black people to want to work at Historically Lily White Colleges and Universities?

  • JC says:

    I have experience working with both a black college and right now, I'm teaching at a women's college. I am a white chick.
    Yes, we need both black and women's colleges. but we are lacking in something... a bridge from those colleges into graduate school and into non-segregated workplaces.
    The students are intimidated, they don't apply for internships or research experiences because they see their own selves at a disadvantage. I'm working with them to make the transitions, speak up in discussion, they are terribly afraid of asking "dumb questions", and there is very much a case of "don't want to seem too smart" by the women and "don't want to seem too white" by the blacks. These are BRIGHT students - they don't come from a great high school education, it's a total uphill battle for them. And the more I encourage them, help them with their resumes, go over their cover letters, read their quiz answers with them, do the problems in the chapter... they start to see that they are smart. They are good enough. Everytime I hear one of them put themselves down, I think about all the talent this country is missing out on.

  • Becca says:

    I had read that comment. There's a good chance it sunk into my quasi-conscious mind, predisposing me toward thinking so favorably about it wrt working at a HBCU.
    It's not weird for black people to want to work at Historically Lily White Colleges, but do they they ever want to out of a dubious desire to be virtuous? I'm wondering if I personally can avoid a smidge of "oh look at me, I'm so tolerant" .
    I think it takes a certain pioneer attitude for a black person at a HLWU, and sometimes they might even thrive with a competitive attitude (similar to women in male dominated fields sometimes having the "Take that glass ceiling!" approach). The former part may have an analogous place for a white person at a HBCU, but the later sort of motivation would be rather odd.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'm wondering if I personally can avoid a smidge of "oh look at me, I'm so tolerant" .
    If you have to wonder it is likely going to be a problem. fwiw.
    to take a broader view, dajokr referred to white faculty as 'minority' which is probably a good way to look at it as more than just a numerical accounting. I would think that yes, there will be some adjustments to be made. And I doubt it is easy for those white faculty that do teach at HCBUs.
    With regard to your last point, I would be skeptical that many white PhDs go into HCBU jobs as a sort of 'let me break that glass ceiling' mission. much more likely to do with individual circumstance and not having any default aversion or reluctance to seek a job at such institutions.

  • dajokr says:

    Thanks for drawing attention to that post and my previous comments on your blog. To my dismay, there is nothing currently on my campus to indicate that such a thing as National HBCU Week exists.
    For the record, it was not a determinate career goal of mine to be a white professor at a HBCU. Instead, a terrific teaching and research opportunity presented itself in a geographical area where many university options are available, HBCUs and HLWCUs (scholars use PWI for Predominantly White Institution although I must confess delight with "HLWCU"). I've had several HBCU colleagues in the past, helped train HBCU students, etc., so I've always viewed the HBCU as another career option along the spectrum of Research I universities, SLACs, and two-and four-year community colleges. Regardless of where I've been though, I've always taken great pride in supporting people who don't look like me get into the fields of science and medicine.
    Far more literature exists on the experience of the black professor in the PWI than for white faculty in the HBCU. One of the first, post-1964 examinations of the subject came from Winifred Warnat in the Journal of Negro Education (1976;45:334-8) where white faculty were classified as moron, martyr, messiah, or marginal man: morons were considered by whites and blacks as profs who lacked the qualifications to get into a PWI; martyrs were those driven to recompense for racial guilt; messiahs were egomaniacs who viewed themselves as saviors who could do what no black prof could; and marginal man (from the 1937 book) is one who experiences the cognitive dissonance of being "torn between representing the culture from which he comes and assimilating into the culture in which he is an alien."
    I'm still not exactly sure if I fit into any of these four archetypes but then again, that thesis was offered 32 years ago. I can say that I have been warmly treated by the vast majority of my black and white HBCU colleagues and my PWI colleagues have been largely supportive and interested in research collaborations. Again, perhaps this is because I live in a racially diverse community where HBCUs are quite common. In fact, the only derogatory comments I've received have actually been from family members outside the area, albeit non-blood kin.
    Thanks for drawing attention to this issue and welcoming my continued, albeit lengthy, comments.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Update 9/17/08: Reflections on the HBCU experience from Samia of 49 percent.

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