Deni Dedmon has decided to attend Howard University this fall. The Albany, GA native had her choice of historically black and predominantly white schools throughout the southeast, and had the advice of a school counselor telling her to go anywhere but a dysfunctional HBCU. The counselor’s admonition, if you believe 60 percent of what HBCU Twitter and HBCU Snapchat has to say, was painfully accurate.
“Let me guess: Spelman, Howard, FAMU? Those schools are really unorganized. They’re just going to take your application fee and not even look at your application. You only need to apply to two or three schools. Let’s try something public and in-state like UGA or Georgia Southern.”
What he said crushed me, but it was partly true; HBCUs have a reputation for being unorganized. From the stories I had heard, many HBCUs lose transcripts, recommendations, or even whole applications. It frightened me a little but it also empowered me to stay on top of my applications, even if it meant calling the admissions offices everyday to make sure things were going smoothly.
But she listened to relatives and loved ones in her life who told her that attending a HBCU was the best decision they ever made, and that the experience could be similar for her. Given that she comes from a family with a history of higher education, and had experiences which helped her to become noticed as a contributor for MTV.com, chances are she will emerge in four years within the 90 percent of HBCU graduates who will forever love their alma mater.
Deni’s story is not unusual for many black students across the country, particularly as she considers the cultural impact of the school which will forever shape her professional identity. Her words echo on behalf of millions of students who’ve grown up attending predominantly white schools, and those from predominantly black communities who want to compete with the best of the African Diaspora.
Many of them said that they felt more at home at their HBCU and like the faculty and staff cared more about them, while their experiences with PWIs (whether it was part of their undergraduate or graduate schooling) made them feel as if they were a number. I don’t want to be just a number — I want to be somebody. Their advice, coupled with the problems of racism at schools like University of Missouri and Ithaca College, helped me make a decision as to which college I will attend in the future.
So Howard will get Deni in the fall. But now that she’s made her decision, it is up to HU to fulfill her expectations. When she arrives in DC, she will find out about #TakeBackHU. She will find out about the culture of administrators and faculty who want to make students feel like they should be honored to be inconvenienced at ‘the Mecca.’ And these things will be heaped upon the usual adjustment hardships that come with college life — new diet, new time management requirements, new lifestyle, new distractions, and new cultures she’s never seen before.
Some of these things Howard is able to prevent or to account for with adjustments in service and support systems. All of these things they can help Deni to prepare for, months before the rush of paperwork, registration, moving in and orientation crashes into her new and wonderful life as a Bison. It’s these efforts that help students to adjust — when they are able to prepare for the elements of college life which activate resilience in some, but creates psychological breaks in others who are not ready for the transition.
In Deni, Howard has the benefit of a new student who will come to campus with a mature perspective about why some HBCU institutional struggles persist, and her role in helping to mitigate them within her own personal HBCU journey. She has a family network that will see her through rough spots, which can tell her what to do if papers are lost, when grades aren’t posted on time, when roommates act a fool, or if finance becomes an issue.
Deni and her family are assets to Howard, and families like hers are infinitely valuable to every HBCU welcoming hundreds of new students to campus this fall. Thousands of young people, older people, transfer people and military people are coming to black colleges on a new wave of self-discovery and cultural value, spurred by America’s growing racial animus towards black people. They have heard about the opportunities and challenges presented by HBCUs, and seemingly, are willing to look beyond the stereotypes and horror stories.
But HBCUs do themselves a disservice if they know this wave of students is fast approaching, and allow broken service systems, bitter faculty and staff, and a lack of preparatory information to greet them at the front door, along with the usual challenges of first-time college entry.
Deni Dedmon is ready for Howard University. Here’s hoping that Howard, and HBCUs nationwide, are ready for the thousands of students like her headed their way in the coming months.