Why historically black colleges matter

Opinion: Columns

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

Stan West

When an advance notice appeared online the week prior to the event, which was held on May 30 at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a well-meaning, albeit misinformed, citizen here in our village took offense at a college fair featuring Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Other citizens challenged this way of thinking. Going simply by the name of "Q," this particular citizen argued that "Black College Night" was discriminatory.

"Will there be a Black Night Dance at OPRF HS? If so, there must be a White Night Dance," wrote Q on May 22. "This type of labeling is no longer acceptable and cannot be brushed to the side saying other races can attend the White Dance or the White Night. Now the Whites at OPRF HS can say we are helping in the advancement of Blacks. That is OPRF Whites' ignorance."

Q went on to reveal deep-seated stereotypical views about black intelligence and achievement in subsequent posts that suggested perhaps his own faculties might be somewhat lacking, which is why I got him brochures to both Howard University and Florida Memorial University and dropped them off at the Journal — so he could apply to these colleges and become enlightened.

Meanwhile, in search of the truth and a comment from "Q," I visited the high school's Tuesday night event, co-hosted by the school's "Parent Connection" group and the HBCUs, represented by Jan Honore, president of the Chicago Chapter of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and an Oak Park resident and Spellman College grad.

Ms. Honore, sister-in-law to retired U.S. Army Lt. General Russell Honore who shepherded the government's early relief effort during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, told me at the meeting: "Every child, regardless of race should have a choice, an option of where they can go to college and where they can get financial assistance if they need it. We're here for everyone, including African Americans."

According to OPRF's outreach coordinator, Debra Mittleman, if a student liked what he or she heard and was interested in applying to an HBCU, they could go online and apply to 36 colleges. This common application for HBCUs usually costs $35 to submit but, in support of our Black College Night, EDU Inc. (sponsor of the HBCU Common Application) agreed to allow attendees to apply for $20 each. That's just 56 cents per school.

At this standing-room-only event, I asked a white male counselor (one of only two whites I saw) to respond to Q's fears. "It's unfortunate that some people would think this event is exclusionary," the counselor said. "HBCUs offer not just blacks but whites and others distinctive opportunities and experiences."

At least four former OPRF students reaffirmed their choice to go from a mostly white high school to a mostly black college.

"I needed something different," said Annie Riles, a sophomore at Howard University in Washington D.C. "I needed to have the experience of being in a majority black elite, intellectual experience." Similar comments were expressed by Trevor Ivey at Philander-Smith College in Arkansas, and Josh Nelson and Asa Cain at Hampton in Virginia.

(Full disclosure: All four know my twin sons, Amman and Jordan West, who did not choose HBCUs, partly because they are Romance language majors and their East Coast Jesuit schools had more rigorous French and Italian programs. Amman did have Howard and South Carolina State Universities on his college list because they do have good French programs. None of the HBCUs had advanced Italian, Jordan's major. Both have 3.5 GPAs. Meanwhile, my niece, Layla West, who graduated with honors from St. Ignatius High School on May 31, was accepted at the Ivy League's Columbia University but chose Howard University on a full-ride scholarship because it was "a good fit.")

Because everyone I interviewed wanted "Q" to have updated, credible information, scholars reported this week — on Bronzecomm.com — that there's great news for students who opt for HBCUs over traditional white-majority institutions. African-Americans who graduate from a historically black college or university do better financially than blacks who graduate from traditionally white colleges and universities, according to a new study by economists at Morehouse College and Howard University.

"Our results suggest that as HBCUs afford graduates relatively superior long-run returns, they continue to have a compelling educational justification as the labor market outcomes of their graduates are superior to what they would have been had they graduated from a non-HBCU," wrote the researchers. The study was published last month in the Review of Black Political Economy, and was written by Gregory N. Price of Morehouse College and William Spriggs and Omari H. Swinton of Howard University (hbcubuzz.com/hbcu-grads-outperform-black-graduates-of-predominantly-white-institutions-pwi).

Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and OakPark.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

2 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Lana from Atlanta  

Posted: June 19th, 2012 9:51 PM

Correction "Spelman" has one "L" not two. I graduated from OPRF in 1999 & went on to graduate from Spelman in 2003. Attending an HBCU was the best decision for me. HBCUs provide experiences & opportunities for African Americans that non-HBCUs do not. I have seen it first hand as I compare my college education and experience with that of some of my peers that didn't attend a HBCUs. It's crazy to think anyone would even think or say a Black College Night is discriminatory...


Posted: June 14th, 2012 9:56 AM

Thank you for the update. The link is broken for the study. However, the results are something I've known for a long time anecdotally. No matter what field you are in, you always tend to see HBCU grads at the top. I just hope the tradition continues. The college experience can be deeper than football and bongs, particularly for African-Americans looking to find a place to belong to something larger.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad