It’s much more than commanding them to be black and proud at a black and proud school.
Over the next three months, a majority of high school seniors throughout the country will be making choices about where they will attend college in the fall. And if you consider yourself to be a stakeholder or influencer in their decision, and you want to them to consider an HBCU, there’s five steps you should take to position black colleges as a viable option for the near future.
5. Research actual campuses to fit with career goals AND personalities. Don’t be one of those relatives who starts telling a kid about the fun you had, the relationships you made, and how much you treasure HBCUs. Those were your experiences, and if that student can’t quickly or easily recreate the bill of goods you sold, they will be miserable.
Create a narrative about HBCUs that involves the student’s interests, personality and career goals. Don’t look at your introverted kid and think “he’ll come out of his shell if he goes to North Carolina A&T or Clark Atlanta.” Don’t try to convince your niece, an aspiring broadcast journalist, that Fisk is the best place for her. And don’t try to convince your cousin to attend a private HBCU in a rural town when you know he may have to work to afford school and needs access to jobs. Put in the work to triangulate the best fit between cultural, economic and academic fit.
And most importantly — tell the truth about everything they will experience when they arrive. Explain why and how HBCUs lack resources on campus, and how this demands a higher caliber of maturity from students to understand customer service, technology gaps, and facilities issues.
4. Sell the sexy. Don’t avoid conversation about the different kinds of people your student will meet, the fun they will have, and the memories they will create. 18-year-olds hear enough from counselors, teachers, and society about preparing for the future with a commitment to academics and professional training. But freedom is what is really on their minds, so you should be sure to sell the cultural benefits of an HBCU, while keeping the mantra of ‘everything in moderation.’
3. Emphasize the network. Many black students coming out of high school don’t yet realize the power of networking, so explain to them the professional benefit of being taught by professors who look like them, and how this can translate into professional contacts with others who look like them. Explain that diversity doesn’t just mean “going to school with white people,” and that when corporations actively seek out African American talent, they tend to go to the schools where they are most easily and likely to run into black talent walking across campus.
2. History and tradition are the icing, not the cake. Talk about the history and tradition of HBCUs as an added benefit of attending, not the primary reason. A legacy of student protests, access when PWIs discriminated against blacks, and the baddest homecomings will not move a student who cares more about what the school is doing today than what HBCUs were great at doing 40 years ago. Most black students, especially those who grew up in HBCU communities, understand the HBCU legacy. And outside of those who want to carry on family tradition, or to meet a personal cultural goal by attending an HBCU, the legacy of our schools does not mean that much in 2016.
1. Exposure to HBCUs is greater than badmouthing PWIs First, young people tend to want exactly what older people say they shouldn’t pursue. Second, talking down about a school with more academic programs, more modern facilities, better-supported athletics and at least two generations of pop cultural messaging about HBCU inferiority will make you look stupid to a student who is on the fence about college choice.
Finally, it’s easier and cheaper to take a kid to walk across an HBCU campus than it would be to bad mouth a PWI without any facts beyond the headlines students have already read and heard about over the last six months.