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HBCUs vs. PWIs: the African American perspective

By Mickaela Sherman
On February 12, 2016

Courtesy of Alicia Wheeler @CoffeeCreamGirl

There is often a huge misconception in the African American community that Predominately White Institutions are better than Historically Black Coll­eges or Universities.

Some are taught that the only way they can be successful is to attend a PWI. Why is that the case?

In many cases in the job market African American students who attend PWIs believe that they will be less competitive upon graduating if they attend an HBCU.

Sarah Wedderburn, an African American student who attends Florida State University said, that her parents wanted her to experience a different environment.

“The reason why I choose to attend a PWI was because my parents wouldn’t even allow me to apply to an HBCU,” she stated. “They wanted me to experience diversity because that is what the real world is like. Attending an HBCU is unrealistic because we are still the minority.”

Psychology professor Novell Tani Ph.D., who received his masters at Florida A&M University in Applied Social Sciences and a masters and a Ph.D., at FSU in Developmental Psychology, had the opportunity to experience both sides of the spectrum. 

 “The education at both schools were very rigorous and fuelling and enlightening,” he said. “It is just a matter of are you applying yourself.”

Most students that attend HBCUs believe that professors specifically cater their teachings and methods around making sure that students’ opportunities are just as endless. Some professors put an emphasis on the importance of grammar, writing, and communication, which is a large issue in the black community.

Tani believes that professors are very mindful of a students challenge with Ebonics or also known as AAVE (African American Vernacular), but it is not our downfall it is our culture.

“If you look at how our Afro-descendants learned english it was very rushed because we were coming from a different linguistic background,” he said. “We at HBCUs are very mindful and culturally sensitive because we allow students to use their culture or their linguistics while guiding them to use Standard American English and proper grammar.”

Shayla Gibson who graduated from FAMU in the spring of 2015 stated that she decided to attend FAMU because she wanted to learn about her history.

“I chose to go to a HBCU because learning African American culture and history is considered the secondary or the elective,” she said. “The one thing I remember before graduating was that I was prepared to be very competitive in the work force.”

Gibson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and is currently working for the Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee.

Another huge fear when making the decision between a PWI and a HBCU is that many individuals believe that the degree they receive from an HBCU will be valued less. Unfortunately in some situations that may be the case. Just as the degree is undervalued sometimes African Americans are judged similarly.

Cassandra Jeanmarie a second-year FAMU occupational therapy student from Miami disagrees with the theory and feels that it is an even playing field.

“I don’t feel like my degree would be valued less, it’s not about your school, it’s about what you know. If a top company is looking for someone to represent them in an urban area, you can expect a ‘John’ to be able to relate to that demographic.”

Although this heated debate may never come to an end, the question if African Americans can be successful after attending an HBCU is demonstrated every day.

Individuals such as: sports commentator, Pam Oliver who attended FAMU; popular TV personality, Terrance J who attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; and Morehouse College graduate and current screenwriter, film maker and actor Spike Lee, have paved the way for African Americans at HBCUs.

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