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HBCU Higher Ed Higher Education PWI Race Student Affairs

I Admit It: My PWI Experience Doesn’t Compare to an HBCU

A friend of mine shared the article, I went to a PWI and still had a black college experience. I read through the comments (on his post) and saw a lot of predominately white Institutions (PWI) graduates defending and affirming the author’s perspective. But I have a different one. Here’s the (slightly edited) comment  that I left:

As someone who attended PWIs, I had GREAT experiences and I LOVE my schools. However, I won’t compare my experience to that of an HBCU. Yes, at many PWIs, black people come together and make our own community within the greater university. But I acknowledge that that “black experience” is not comparable to an HBCU. To make the comparison that it is similar is to minimize the HBCU experience. Even this article does so by equating the HBCU experience to their “black experience” of social events with chicken, etc.

The HBCU experience (and I’m speaking more from my knowledge as a higher ed professional, not as an attendee) is much more than the social piece, but unfortunately, that’s often the only piece we discuss; the soul food and the swag surfing, and that’s not right.

HBCUs provide students with support and community that cannot be compared to PWIs. There is much value to being in a space that is full of black people…faculty, students, and staff. That type of environment doesn’t just make school “fun” but it impacts retention and academic success because it’s free of (anti-black) racial bias. And as people who attended PWIs (and just living in America), we can acknowledge that racial bias is very real at our schools and manifests in many ways: microagressions like people asking you bizarre questions about culture, people not wanting to work with you in groups, roommate issues, professors already counting you out, financial aid counselors not doing all they can to help you, being the only black person in a class/major, very few scholarship opportunities, poorly staffed “diversity” offices, a struggle to get funding and support for black initiatives and events, every institutional aspect being shaped from a white lens…I could go on and on. And while some of us made it through and graduated (shout out to us!), so many people didn’t, or never even had the chance to be admitted or attend because of these biases. So we HAVE to acknowledge and appreciate HBCUs for providing an opportunity and experience free from (anti-black) racism.

We need to ask ourselves why we feel the need to prove that we had “a black experience?” We went to white schools…its okay. We knew what we were getting into and we still found community with other black students. Great! But why do we feel we need to prove “a black experience?”

The root issue behind this article and repetitious conversation is the debate (among black people) on attending PWIs or HBCUs. As black people, we continue to argue about this and it needs to stop. PWI attendees feel like we have to defend and prove that we are still black and love blackness to HBCU attendees who condemn us for attending PWIs. And HBCU attendees feel like they have to defend their institutions as being “good enough” to PWI attendees that feel like their (white) schools are better. This is the real issue.

You can go to a PWI and still love your blackness. You can go to a an HBCU and still be successful.

The debate is nothing more than divisive because as with most things in life, there are pros and cons to both experiences. There’s no wrong or right answer. If we would just support all black people getting educated, regardless of the racial make up of the school, articles and conversations like this wouldn’t even be necessary.

I went to a PWI but I will be the first to support HBCUs and HBCU grads. And the opposite should be true for HBCU attendees. It’s possible for us to be proud of and support both.

By Aleidra Allen

Aleidra Allen is a social change advocate and entrepreneur. With a background in higher education administration, Aleidra served as a higher education practitioner for 4 years. During that time, she coordinated leadership programs and multicultural education, and advised student organizations and fraternities and sororities, . However, as society entered into the current social movement, Aleidra’s career was redirected.

In September of 2017, Aleidra took a leap of faith and left higher education to start her own business. She is now the founder and owner of PIE, which stands for Purpose In Everything. PIE is a start-up social enterprise that sells every day products, adding purpose to the purchases by donating 5% of its net sales to fund social change work. The products are also ethically made, being sweatshop-free, and many of them are environmentally friendly.

PIE is committed to social justice, with the goal of inspiring consumers to contribute to social change through conscious and intentional buying. You can follow PIE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @piemovement, and visit the PIE website at www.piemovement.com to #BuyOnPurpose. If you are interested in having Aleidra facilitate diversity and inclusion trainings/workshops for you school, organization, or corporation, please email info@piemovement.com.

Aleidra has shared her perspectives on larger platforms as a repeating guest on HuffPost Live. She has also been published on Watch The Yard and Blavity.

Aleidra received her Bachelor of Science in Community Communications and Leadership Development from the University of Kentucky (UK). She later earned her Master of Arts in Education (specialization in Higher Education Administration) from Louisiana State University (LSU). Aleidra is a board member for Continuity, an active member of the Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., a “Big” in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and a member of the choir at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, MO.

2 replies on “I Admit It: My PWI Experience Doesn’t Compare to an HBCU”

I also attended a PWI and had a great experience. I obtained my masters and worked (and currently working) at an HBCU. This is a great response to the PWI vs HBCU debate.

Liked by 1 person

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