This week, The Ill Professors discuss HBCUs. Recently, many have questioned the relevance of such institutions. Is there still a need? RANDY BANDIT’S TAKE: *In full disclosure, I admit, with a great deal of pride, that I am a graduate of a Historically Black College/University. I graduated in 1997 from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a school that holds the distinction of being the only institution of higher learning in North America devoted primarily to the education of Black males. While I could brag about my alma mater, much of what I have to say could easily apply to any number of HBCUs in this country, because they were all created for a common purpose: educating African-American students. While one could easily argue that the time for HBCUs has passed, especially since this country has an African-American president, nothing could be further from the truth. I could easily talk about James Meredith being gunned down over forty years ago attempting to take his place at the University of Mississippi, but I don’t have to go back that far to illustrate the necessity of HBCUs. Today, HBCUs produce graduates that are competitive in today’s workforce (as they always have) and continue to conduct world-class research that ranks with best in the country. For example, Hampton University, my employer, is in the process of building a Proton Beam Therapy Center for cancer patients, one of only four in the entire country. Even more, HBCUs produce Rhodes and Fulbright scholars, doctors, lawyers, filmmakers, entertainers, teachers, and even Nobel Prize laureates. While I could wax poetic all day long about the academic aspects of attending an HBCU, I would feel remiss if I did not focus on what I feel are the most unique assets that set HBCUs apart from other schools: the experience of HBCU campus life. Alumni of HBCUs typically have a passion for their schools, not merely their athletic teams. I loved my experience at Morehouse, and I love being a part of my students’ experiences at Hampton University. I know that one day they will graduate and meet other graduates of HBCUs and automatically feel a bond with them, and this connection will help them further navigate their lives. We are connected by our experiences in smaller classrooms, our coronations, our homecomings, our marching bands, our Greek life, our desires to survive the hardest professors and to become alumni who will change the world. Interestingly, the entrepreneurial spirit at HBCUs has translated into enterprises that continue to captivate not just African Americans, but Americans in general. Some people say that HBCUs don’t reflect the real world. I think that statement is vague at best and obtuse at worst. I attended a racially diverse high school, and I didn’t feel as though I were being sectioned off from the real world when I attended an HBCU. My faculty was diverse (as every HBCUs’ faculty is today), and as a trend that continues to broaden, more students who are not African American attend HBCUs. In fact, Tennessee State University in Nashville has probably one of the most racially balanced student ratios of any HBCU. Admittedly, racism is not the issue that it could be at other universities, but having that as one less stress while attending college should not be considered a negative. In fact, for an undergraduate, that could be a plus. In the end, it is difficult to articulate why HBCUs are so worthy of consideration for graduating seniors. Naysayers will still cling to their positions, but I can say this, unequivocally: HBCUs are worth far more than the sum of their parts, and in today’s economy, that’s a great deal. PHILL BOOGIE’S TAKE: I was watching the “Tyra Show” recently and there was a young lady of mixed black and white heritage speaking of her dislike of black people. The young woman had chocolate brown skin and resented the fact that she didn’t benefit from her whiteness in terms of her complexion. She wants to pass. In addition to that young woman, there were several other guests of mixed heritage who complained that they didn’t like part of who they are. Most were using broad stereotypes of the culture they were choosing to deny. Putting aside how sad I felt for these women, I couldn’t help but notice how flawed their positions were. As I begin another year as a professor at an HBCU, I realize that I cherish the university I work for because of its unique characteristics, not just because it’s black. In this supposed post-race era we live in, many are asking if there is still a place for black colleges and universities. I find the question itself exhausting. I usually don’t respond to the question, but many who address it, speak of how different and special the experience of an HBCU is. As a HBCU alum, I do feel that my experience was special, but much of the experience was unique to my alma mater. While there are many similarities between HBCUs, the bands, the Greek life etc.; going to Spelman is not the same as going to Lincoln. The schools are as individual as we are as people. Also, I don’t like the subtext that attending an institution that isn’t an HBCU is somehow less special. At best, I will say the experiences are different. As I sat listening to the guests on “Tyra” unable to give specifics on what they hate, or love about whites, blacks, or Latinos; I thought about this HBCU discussion. The truth is, I can talk in some generalities about the HBCU experience versus a different type of college experience, but I think specifics work best. As an undergrad, Hampton University was an oasis. The education, environment and support changed my life. As a professor at Hampton, it is still an oasis. The only difference is that I get to cherish the experience my students are having, in addition to my own. I am sure that most alumni and academics feel this way about their institutions. Ultimately, it’s about the students. As long as students seek the type of education that HBCUs provide, there should be a place for them to go. For those who say that black institutions don’t give a “real world” experience, should we get rid of everything catered towards a specific market? I don’t ever hear anyone rallying against black clubs, or radio stations. Many people who will complain about HBCUs will gather exclusively with black folks on the Vineyard and at Essence Fest. They’ll join black sororities and fraternities. Why is that okay, but not a HBCU education? It all comes down to personal choice. Sure, society has changed. We can go to any school we want. For that reason, I think it’s especially noteworthy that HBCUs have survived. Integration was the death of many things that were exclusively black. Many businesses and neighborhoods crumbled once blacks were free to live and shop wherever they wanted. That these schools still exist, speaks to their relevance. To hear more about our take on HBCUs, go to illprofessors.com and listen to our podcast.