As a lover of Black people, Black colleges and ABC’s Black-ish, I was elated to see the combination of the three play out on this week’s episode of Black-ish. The episode focuses on Junior’s decision of where he would attend college between Stanford and Howard Universities and the differences between the two institution types.
This episode was similar to the episode of This is Us, whereby Randall was also faced with making college decisions and found Howard at the top of his list. The difference was that Randall had a White father who knew nothing about Hbcus at best, while Junior’s father was an alum and was positioning him to claim his status as A Howard legacy (what an honor).
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode of Black-ish, as I always do. The writers did an excellent job of highlighting and demystifying myths about HBCUs, demonstrating them as havens for Black students, as well as giving a realistic view of both the pros and cons of attending an HBCU. Most importantly, the episode highlighted the landscape of the campus, while also showing how the current generation of students on campus differ from the student body of years ago when Dre (Junior’s dad) attended.
The episode of This is Us eloquently demonstrated the aesthetics of the campus, as well as the impact, availability, and common practice of peer mentoring. Despite coming from a White family that was unaware of the importance of and arguably the existence of HBCUs, Randall was offered an insider’s orientation to the campus and Howard life from a friend who a current student there. This gave him an oppportunity to gain deeper and more realistic insights than he would’ve if he would’ve opted for the general tour offered through the Office of Admissions. HBCU students look out for each other in a way that may not exist at other universities and HBCUs naturally foster a familial atmosphere above and beyond other universities, as supported by research.
A critique of the representation of HBCUs on television is that the only example that has been used to showcase HBCUs on these networks is Howard, also known as the Mecca. While Black-ish featured a line discussing several famous Black people who are products of HBCUs, including Oprah and Dr. Martin Luther King, I fear that the history, impact and diversity present among these institutions may have gotten loss within the frequency of the use of Howard as the only example of a premier Black university.
It is important to note that despite being regarded as the Mecca, Howard University is only one of 103 institutions classified as HBCUs. While Howard is an exquisite example and an initial start for exposing people to HBCUs, it’s important that we also showcase other HBCUs and make available information about the academic rigor, nurturing environment and opportunity for identity development available at HBCUs. It is important to make viewers aware of the value that can be found in large, private research intensive, urban HBCUs like Howard, as well as ones that are smaller, public, and less well known. It’s important to use these platforms, such as ABC’s network, to further educate people on the history of these universities and the diversity of their strengths and challenges. Perhaps there are college bound students who need exposure to other options in addition to Howard, where they will have the opportunity to grow into themselves. What about students who need exposure to institutions that will provide them entree to nurturing professors but also a smaller student to professor ratio? What about students who aren’t members of the Black upperclass and can’t afford to attend one of the “top five” HBCUs, such as Howard? What about those who need exposure to public HBCUs? Rural HBCUs? HBCUs that are best for training Black engineers? (Aggie Pride!) Journalists? Psychologists?
While we all, undeniably love and respect the Mecca, it is my hope that the narrative of HBCUs are furthered by showcasing the importance and impact of other HBCUs. What about North Carolina A&T? FAMU? Tennessee State? Spelman College? Morehouse? Fisk? Benedict College? Grambling State? Harris-Stowe State University? Dilliard? Xavier? Wilberforce? No one HBCU is the same, has the same impact or is positioned to accommodate the same type of student. By expanding to including other HBCUs and refraining from comparing them to predominantly White, research intensive or ivy leagues, we inevitably expand the capacity for others to learn about the impact of America’s gems that are HBCUs and the invaluable impact of their educational journeys.