Most historically black colleges and universities were established in the late 1800s as a result of predominantly white institutions excluding black students from their programs. Today however, both HBCUs and PWIs openly accept minority students into their schools.
But, do minorities at HBCUs and PWIs have the same experiences? In a decidedly non-scientific attempt to answer the question, a minority student at FAMU and a minority student st FSU shared their experiences.
Jonmichael Francis was a white public relations student at Florida A&M University who earned his degree in May. He describes his experience at the HBCU as welcoming and affirming. At first Francis was anxious about coming to FAMU as a white male because he understood that he was stepping into a black space and did not know how he would be accepted.
“I was definitely a little nervous to come here. My friends did not understand why I made my decision to attend an HBCU but I knew in my heart this is where I wanted to be,” said Francis. “I was accepted with opened arms by my friends who I made here at FAMU who I now consider as my brothers. There is a family bond that a student receives at an HBCU that I do not think really exist at PWIs.”
Francis believes being at FAMU helped expand his outlook on America’s truth and history. After learning more in depth the reasons for the creation of HBCUs and hearing the raw feelings of his peers, Francis realized that his white privilege over the years has blocked him from knowing the facts and understanding the feelings of black people.
“The Black Lives Matter movement was in full swing when I first started at FAMU, shortly thereafter, Trump went into office, and then Kaepernick and more than half of NFL players began kneeling for justice. I know my perspective on these issues are very different now than they would have been if I was not a student here at FAMU. I am thankful for that,” said Francis.
On the flip side, Maya Hendry is an African American political science major a Florida State University and her experience at FSU was a little bit different than Francis’.
“I mean sure I was nervous the first day of school just like I figured everyone else would be,” she said. “The thought about being the only black student in class did not cross my mind until I was the only black student in my class.”
Hendry felt like she wasn’t necessarily accepted with open arms. She also was not pushed away either, but she sometimes felt like a weird experiment. Students would stare at her in her classes and be surprised whenever she did decide to speak.
“The first time we had a class discussion in my political science class I raised my hand to answer and it was as if the whole room fell quiet because they wanted to hear what I had to say,” said Hendry. “Their surprised faces revealed that they did not expect me to know how to articulate my words because I was black.”
Hendry did not feel the same “at home” feeling that Francis did. She disclosed there was no real culture for her to fit into. She would go to class and then go home every day. It wasn't until she began taking African American studies classes where she was accompanied by other black students who felt the same way that she did. She finally found a space she felt she belonged in and people to relate to.
“I did not have a ‘horrible’ experience and I wouldn’t say I experienced blatant racism. However, I felt as though I always had to defend myself and my peers when interacting with other students in a classroom setting,” said Hendry. “Sometimes the white students would say insensitive things that would hurt black students. It was mind boggling how you could literally smell the white privilege in the air.”
Hendry said she is thankful for going to a PWI because it helped her learn what it would be like in the real world. She quickly grasped the skill to adapt while staying true to herself around people who may or may not have wanted her to be in the room or sitting at the same table as them.
“White people don’t hate us. They just do not understand us and as a result it looks like some form of dislike,” said Hendry. “Likewise, black people do not hate white people either but we also do not understand them. Until we all can understand each other things will always be the same here.”