Roland Martin, a grand advocate for historically black colleges and their sustainability in American higher education culture, recently took a brief, but sharp departure from his social networking roots of the same. In an editorial penned less than a day after being challenged by a Morehouse College student for his labor within and on behalf of the Black community, Martin shared his experiences and perspectives on blackness and the monopoly HBCUs don't hold on the process of building it or maintaining it.
But what I will also quickly put in check is the arrogance and misguided views that sometimes are held by HBCU graduates, as well as the view that somehow Black students aren't able to survive at non-Black institutions of higher learning.
For instance, when I was a high school senior and decided to attend Texas A&M, Luther Booker, the legendary football coach at Jack Yates High School, pulled me aside to talk. Coach Booker said he heard I chose A&M and was upset that "the best and brightest of our Black students are going to white schools."
"Coach, wait a minute," I said. "Are you not the same coach who has gotten upset when major Division I-A universities aren't recruiting your top players? Now if you want your football players to go to A&M, Texas, Nebraska and the top football schools, why is it bad for a student like me to also go to those schools?
"Coach, didn't y'all fight for students like me to go to any school we chose? Don't my parents pay state taxes? So why shouldn't I have the freedom to go to a state school?"
Martin raises a cogent point about the myopic view some black people have about HBCUs and their status as the Sanctum Sanctorum of black cultural awareness and allegiance. While being emotionally understandable, the fallacy is in the incomplete logic that the HBCU was there for us before the struggle, and continues to be there in spirit and in truth where the PWI offers neither. The extremist voices of those alumni, students and administrators in support of the HBCU find their student culture, academic offerings and community support mechanisms to be the longest lasting and most viable stronghold for cultural progress, without rival or consideration of such.
In reality, HBCUs have the same divisive cultures created by class, geography, civic affiliation and general human standard found on every college campus. They confront their issues of mismanagement, incompetence and lack of vision at high levels of administration like any other schools. Underfunding, by way of historic and contemporary systematic racism and segregation, has amplified these issues, often in the public forum. As a result, there is a cultural cognitive dissonance for the most outward of HBCU supporters; a difficult navigation to love the culture and history of the HBCU in spite of its shortcomings in development and growth, particularly as PWIs have exploded into America's pop cultural conscience in athletics, business, politics and social development over the last 30 years.
And regrettably, brothers and sisters who "choose" to neglect the struggle in favor of the white man's larger campus and colder ice bear the wrath of the HBCU extremists' discontent.
But it's not as if family on the other side of the ivory tower are blameless. Misguided criticism of the HBCU and its students are a regular discussion point for black students at PWIs. On social networks and blogs, extreme thinking students regularly question the validity of a HBCU education, the academic merits of HBCU students, and the reasoning behind choosing a campus culture with held up primarily by marching bands, Greek life and homecoming. While Martin is certain not guilty of this self-hating thinking, with its lack of political, economic and social nuance, his recent editorial does miss the opportunity to address both sides of the matter with some simple truths.
Black students making decisions about college, at large, don't commonly choose a school to avoid blackness, to enhance it or to figure out which pleases their key influencers in either direction. Generally, they pick the campus where they think they'll have the most fun, visualize their learning experience, and grow into the person they ultimately want to be, usually in that order across four-to-six years. This choice is commonly manufactured by the person's experiences -- a campus visit, a family's account or opinion, or images of school in entertainment or community presence.
Popular culture, whether driven by intimate influences or external ones, has everything to do with where a black student chooses to go to school. There are certainly realities of either choice that bring out the wacky contingent of supporters on both sides, but the choice is very clear to each and every student engaged in the selection process. Choose an HBCU and receive a quality academic experience complemented by insight and allegiance to the black experience, but struggling with expectations for modernity in diversity, facilities, technology and customer service. Choose the PWI, and receive a quality academic experience complemented by modernity in diversity, facilities, technology and customer service, but struggling with how to embrace and develop minority voices and perspectives on an institutional level.
There's no bad choice, only less than desirable results within their individual cultures. One day, we'll all be better enable to fix these deficiencies for the benefit of future black leaders everywhere.