Culture

What I Hate Most About The HBCU vs. PWI Debate + My Experiences As A Student Of Both

After having a nice, relaxing outing on this beautiful sunny day, I opened my Twitter app to find my timeline in the midst of a debate that I really hate to watch unfold – the HBCU versus PWI debate.

I hate to watch it unfold because it’s so hard to resist commenting at least once and then that one comment turns into nine tweets, five re-tweets and me ranting to whoever is nearest me.

Before I go into what I hate the most about this debate, let me prove myself credible for an opinion on the matter.

I attended Jackson State University, my beloved HBCU, from 2006-2010. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Speech Communication. Upon graduating from JSU, I immediately began attending the University of Southern Mississippi and in 2012 I received my Master of Science degree in Public Relations.

Me along with my fellow PRSSA officers at the JSU Clubs & Organizations Fair in 2009

Me along with my fellow PRSSA officers at the JSU Clubs & Organizations Fair in 2009

For the record, I love both of the institutions I attended and would recommend either one but if I said the experiences were the same, I’d be lying. I have to also add that I have no problem with anyone who decides not to attend an HBCU. That is your prerogative and I’m not going to criticize you because you’re continuing your education and that’s most important.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m no longer in college and I’ve been in the real world for quite some time now therefore I think differently. I’m more aware of the realities of the world that so many people choose to ignore. We’ve seen in the media lately how much racism continues to rear its ugly head (and I doubt it goes anywhere anytime soon) so I don’t need to tell you that. What I should remind you of is this: no matter what institution you attend or attended, the color of your skin will not change.

My JSU Dance Ensemble days

My JSU Dance Ensemble days

Now that that’s out of the way, let me share a few things about my experiences.

I wasn’t thrilled about attending JSU (at first) but I always wanted to go to an HBCU.
I sort of went to JSU by default because I couldn’t make my mind up and my mom worked there (she still does). I was also accepted into other local HBCUs and HBCUs out of state. I didn’t apply to any PWIs. When time started running out to make a decision, I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend at the time and I wasn’t quite ready to leave the state. So that’s how I ended up at JSU.

I quickly learned the importance of HBCUs my first semester at JSU.
Attending an HBCU is like an extended Black History Month. You are constantly reminded of the rich history of Blacks and it was inspirational to me. I was taught that I was valuable, my contributions had the potential to change the world and it was at JSU that my hustler spirit and mentality was cultivated. I was motivated by the knowledge I’d gained from my professors who cared so deeply about maintaining our legacy. I never got that feeling at USM. Ever.

JSU had a family-like atmosphere that USM did not.
No matter where you are on the campus of JSU, you will feel at home. It’s hard to put in words what the actual feeling is, but I feel it to this day whenever I’m on campus. I feel like I belong. I feel all fuzzy on the inside. USM did not feel like home for me but ironically, it wasn’t because of the White students…the Black students made me feel unwelcome. Now, the school spirit was on another level at USM (I love that…#SMTTT!) but the Black students all had this elitist attitude, the “you can’t sit with us” vibe that is best described like the girls from the movie Mean Girls.

USM had much better customer service.
No matter what I needed to get done, I was able to get it done in a timely manner at USM. Financial aid was a breeze (and a nightmare at JSU), the staff was friendly 90% of the time and the school operated everything so efficiently from scheduling classes to getting around on campus.

I never felt good enough at USM.
Despite being a business owner and knowing more than my classmates about actually practicing PR (take that all you people who complain about the education quality of HBCUs!), I never felt good enough. I felt average…like I couldn’t compete. I’m not sure if it was something inside of me or things within my environment at the school that made me feel this way…but I did.

USM was more equipped with technology to help me take my career to the next level.
I know this has improved greatly since I graduated from JSU, but USM had so much more technology for me to learn and work with. There was a great Mac computer lab and the bookstore had everything I needed in terms of software and tutorial books.

USM had more to offer me as a student in terms of resources.
Any information I needed was readily available, professors were able to get back to me via email with answers to my questions or point me to someone on campus who could help and the community around the campus took great care of USM students. The library was perfect. I hardly ever went to the library at JSU but at USM, I couldn’t stay out of it. I would find myself going there as and when I needed quiet time or even setting up meetings in the private rooms (there were tons of them).

On the campus of USM headed to do a presentation

On the campus of USM headed to do a presentation

Now if you’ll notice, the negative things about JSU are fixable problems. You can fix bad customer service. You can fix an outdated computer room or technology system. In order to fix those things, you need funding for that. A recent report revealed that

“policy makers are moving toward funding mechanisms that disproportionately disadvantage historically Black schools.”

However, the issues I had with USM can’t be fixed with more funding or the hiring/firing of employees. Now the part I hate most about the debate…

There seems to be this “White is right” mentality among several Black people. No shade to White people, but the sooner we stop thinking this, the better off our race will be. We have to stop tearing down one another. We have to stop tearing down what was built for us to thrive, have opportunities and succeed in life. There was a time when all we had were HBCUs. No other institutions would admit us! Whether or not you think HBCUs are quality institutions, as a Black person, you should never EVER tear them down or contribute to the stereotypes that surround them.

While we were all created equal, we are not equal and don’t ever think that we are. Reports and statistics show day in and out how Blacks are at the bottom of the totem pole in so many areas – legal systems, education, wealth, family, etc. We need to get back to the very principles that our HBCUs were founded upon, which point to us creating our own and putting it back into the community for our people to build on and enhance and put our race at its rightful place. That is OUR responsibility!

It’s really about who you know and most of the Black professionals I know were helped by other Black professionals. Don’t just think riding with White people automatically puts you in the running because they take care of each other…if we learn anything from Whites, it should be that we need to do the same.

Now please don’t take this as me being racist or against anyone who has something bad to say about an HBCU, because I’m not. I’m simply challenging you to be a part of the solution instead of creating more problems for a struggling institution that was founded by and for people who look like you.

*drops mic*

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

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