Things have been a bit touchy of late in the world of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), what with Howard University’s apparent gross mismanagement of financial aid money that turned your auntie’s favorite nephew Tyrone Hankerson, Jr. into Black Twitter’s best-dressed whipping post.
The Howard drama resulted in several discussions that I couldn’t reasonably participate in considering I went to a predominantly white institution (PWI). But it got me to thinking about the unique experiences that Black people have on college campuses where the vast majority of our classmates don’t look like us.
I attended the University of Michigan at the turn of this century, a time when we only made up about 7 percent of the student population (certainly and unfortunately less now). There were more Asians and East Indians on campus, which was reflected in the restaurants and other business that catered to them. Think there was anything resembling a soul food restaurant on the main campus…?
A lot of people who don’t truly understand HBCUs incorrectly assume that they’re obsolete. But there are times that I wish I attended one. Here are nine reasons why a PWI isn’t always the move for Black folks:
Being the only Black person in your classes: I was an English major — close your eyes and think for a few seconds about how many other Black male English majors you can think of. Yeah, me neither. My major classes were whiter than a Saturday at Medieval Times; there was a smattering of sistas here and there, but I’ve never met a brotha excited to break down Geoffrey Chaucer’s work.
Increased police presence at your events: I’m pretty sure it qualifies as a micro-aggression to see police and campus security triangulating in front of the student union as if the President of the United States is speaking only when we have our parties there. There could be a Black graduation ceremony and gunships are trained on the front entrance, but let the Society of Unseasoned Chicken (SOUC) gather for their monthly meeting and those bastards are nowhere to be found.
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No barbershops/salons: Because my university is only 40 minutes from the chocolate city that is Detroit, it wasn’t a big issue for me. But I feel for Black folks on campuses in the middle of rural white enclaves where the only option is the Supercuts that’ll have your line looking like a see-saw. The plus side is if you can braid hair or cut a clean Caesar, you can make a killing.
Shitty cafeteria food: Mass-produced cafeteria food is trash more often than not, but I’m sure your white roommate looked at Thursday’s Chicken Surprise like he does his Aunt Gertrude’s delicious salt-free cuisine. Cafeteria food is the reason we gain that chub freshman year – we eat off-campus, fast-food shit that tastes better but is even worse for us. Lose-lose.
Greek organizations – The National Pan-Hellenic Council is integrated into the culture of your average HBCU. At PWIs, though, they’re just working to maintain membership and not get banned for hazing. White Greek organizations have prominent-ass mansions while the black Greeks hope to keep together a rickety off-campus, 3-bedroom crib with termites. And I feel like every PWI has just one member of Iota Phi Theta. We all know that one Iota – poor lil’ Tink-Tink.
Assumptions that you’re an athlete: If you have dark skin and aren’t built like J.J. from Good Times, assume that a good number of non-Black folks will be side-eyeing you wondering who bestowed an athletic scholarship upon your undeserving ass. As long as you wear gear from your alma mater, you’ll get that question for life, and from ancient white men who somehow assume that my 6-foot-1 ass would have done something on Michigan’s basketball squad.
Fake-woke whites: We all know ‘em: white folks who loudly rally around your issues and hold signs during the protest outside of the president’s office (there’s always a protest outside of the president’s office) only to gather with her white friends behind closed doors for Gilmore Girls marathons and whisper-ask, “Well, what if it is all about merit?” Identifiable by matted blonde hair and a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt.
Everyone up in your gotdamn business: At my university, there were no more than two degrees of separation between every black person, and this was before social networks that weren’t BlackPlanet existed. Once during my junior year, a woman stayed overnight in my dorm room. We didn’t have sex, but because she left the next morning as five black dudes stood in the hall outside my door, it didn’t matter: “Dustin is sleeping with so-and-so” spread like Ebola; she blamed me for spreading falsehoods and stopped talking to me. If this didn’t happen to you, you know someone it happened to.
You slept with someone who slept with someone you know: See above. If you believe the old abstinence ads from the 1990s that suggested you have sex with everyone your partner had sex with by proxy, then being Black at a PWI means you banged every other Black person. Unless you’re that Black athlete who only messed with white women, in which case you slept with everyone on campus by proxy.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.