RU Really For The Culture?: Debunking Stereotypes About Black Students Attending Primarily White Institutions

Before I get too far into this article, I want to start with a disclaimer.  I am not saying that PWIs (Primarily White Institutions) are better, nor am I putting down HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities). I believe HBCUs enrich the college experience for black students in ways a PWI can’t. With that said, there are negative stereotypes about black students that choose to attend a PWI, projected by other students and even our family members. I can personally attest to a few stereotypes that run rampant amongst black college students.

“You think you’re better than HBCU students.”

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To me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I, as well as the majority of my friends, have never talked down on HBCUs or students that attend them. Most of us are aware that HBCUs are the reason the generation(s) before us could even receive a higher education. They gave birth to some of the greatest public figures of our time- from Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall to award-winning actress, Taraji P. Henson. In today’s society, HBCUs are valuable more than ever. We are living in a time where the leaders of our nation are doubling down on the marginalized communities, especially the Black community. Having a safe space to be yourself, get in touch with your culture, while receiving your education, is important.

“You were accepted to a HBCU, why didn’t you just go?”

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Often times when I hear this statement, it’s a little cringey and comes off presumptuous. Most of the popular HBCUs like Hampton, Howard, and Morehouse are located in the South/Southeast, and not everyone lives in those areas. Some students can’t afford out-of-state tuition, aren’t in a position to leave their home state or don’t want to take out loans. Don’t automatically assume the decision to opt-out wasn’t because they didn’t have interest in attending.

“You’re turning your back on your community.”

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Absolutely not. Many PWIs, including Rutgers, have numerous black sorority chapters, like Alpha Kappa Alpha, and organizations like the Black Student Union (BSU), because we want to foster a sense of community. These organizations act as safe spaces for black students to openly discuss things going on locally and in the black community as whole. Often times, these organizations hold events that go to important causes. For example, Rutgers BSU puts together events like “Unity Day,” which brings together all the cultural organizations on campus and the “Knight Run,” which is held annually to provide donations to the homeless in the New Brunswick area. In addition, HBCU homecomings bring out many black students, from various universities, and are regarded as cultural staples in the black community. Highly esteemed black politicians, artists, and HBCU alumni are often in attendance as well. (Fun fact: Your’s truly attended Howard University Homecoming in October, and it pretty much was the most lit weekend I’ve had in a while.)

“You are “fake woke”

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Ok, we need to stop this notion that close proximity to whiteness automatically means you aren’t woke. While there does tend to be more black students considered “out of touch” at PWIs than at HBCUs, that doesn’t invalidate every black college’s students social consciousness or love for our identity and culture.

At the end of the day, as young black men and women, we face enough bullsh*t from society. Instead of putting each other down for our college choices, we need to applaud each other for pursuing higher education in the first place. Not too long ago, (literally within the past 60 years) we weren’t even welcomed in classrooms or college campuses at all. So whether you’re at a PWI or HBCU, make your mark at your college campus. You’ve worked hard and tbh:​

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