Recently, I attended the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. In a session focused on providing support to African American and Hispanic students at Predominately White Institutions (PWIs), the presenter and students of color began to bash Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Rhetoric such as MSIs are not competitive enough, PWIs offer more experiences, students of color only attend MSIs because they are unable to meet the acceptance criteria at other institutions, or the graduates of MSIs struggle with getting into graduate school at PWIs were common themes throughout the discussion. I began to reflect on my own personal experiences as a HBCU graduate and how these experiences played an influential role in my life.
As a second generation college student and graduate of Albany State University (ASU), I understand the importance of lifting MSIs. My mother, a graduate of Paine College and my father, a graduate of Morehouse College, attended HBCUs during a period when acceptance to PWIs was rare for African Americans in the South. Although there have been changes, we are reminded of the importance of MSIs when situations surrounding sociopolitical and campus racial climate arise. One of the most talked about occurrences this year has been is Education Secretary DeVos’s statement on HBCUs:
“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
When misrepresentation of HBCUs happen in Washington, there is no surprise of the rhetoric presented at National Conferences such as NACA. It is clear that DeVos and students at NACA missed the opportunity to speak to the factual history of African American Education in America. HBCUs are not the result of the system not working. They are robust responses to an educational system that was not created for minority students. HBCUs continue to focus on educating minority students because PWI’s offer minimal support for this population. Further, MSIs teach students dual citizenship and democracy; while not compromising cultural identity.
My experiences at ASU in organizations such as Student Government Association (SGA) and Student Activities Advisory Board (SAAB) sparked my interest in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA). Further, my interactions with faculty in the classrooms and at internships gave me practical experience and soft skills. My college experience empowered me to work at a technical college, small PWI, and Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Using ASU as a catalyst, I quickly learned the importance of working with minorities. Minority students are often eager and motivated to create change. These students approach issues with creativity and use their experiences to build institutional traditions.
Listening to the above-mentioned views made me wonder why these students felt obstinately about MSIs. Had they heard disparaging stereotypes come from the media? Had they heard of a bad experience? What was driving these thoughts? Was it simply a lack of historical understanding? All institutions of higher learning face issues; therefore, we know that controversy knows no color.
My counter narrative to the aforementioned views of MSIs is grounded in my experience. MSIs reaffirm cultural identity and provide a supportive learning environment. Being challenged academically and socially, they prepare students for professional experiences while enriching their personal development. They welcome diverse populations and provide a fertile learning experience for all students that should never be mistaken for a second class education. Most graduates of MSIs build lifelong friendships, mentors and colleagues. What is most important to graduates of MSIs is the part they play in the legacy of their institution.
My connection with MSIs prepared me for my current doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska. As we seek to prepare students to be global educators, we should include MSIs in our conversations. Those who have attended an MSI understand the heritage and passion that graduates have for their institution. Students who choose other educational options should visit to create an unbiased and authentic opinion. MSIs have thrived on smaller budgets, minor resources and less staff yet produce an equal amount of successful minority graduates.
The question is what can you do to support these institutions? Share your talent and time with these schools. Encourage students to visit MSIs. Consider working with faculty of MSIs on academic projects. Extend opportunities to students at MSIs for mentoring, internship programs, scholarships, and research. There are so many opportunities to build bridges and enhance the educational landscape through partnerships and collaboration. By simply sharing your story with students, you will make a difference.
Kaleb L. Briscoe is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Higher Education program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). She serves as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Department of Educational Administration. Prior to pursing her Ph.D., Kaleb served as the Associate Director of Student Life at the University of Houston-Victoria.