Creating New Legacies: The Role of the Historically Black College and Strong Black Identity

In honor of black history month, I thought it only right to share one of the most positive contributions of the Historically Black College on black students. While conducting research over the past two years at an HBC in Texas, I have been inspired by the attention and aspiration of faculty to delve into the history and significance of the university and inspire students with an environment rich in history. Because of this, the university fosters a positive self and community identity. For instance, before conducting this research, I had my own experiences attending a university in which I was the only student of color in my classes for a significant portion of my academic career. In this respect I coupled my personal experiences with some existing research on black student experiences at predominantly white colleges and sought to uncover how universities can help or hinder a positive black identity. Although my experience was one in which I was constantly aware and reminded of my difference, I am very fortunate to conduct research at an institution that makes it a point to ensure black students have an avenue to an education sans racist and differential attitudes. This is where the much needed HBC comes in.   The students in my research take considerable pride in seeing others around them who are successful, thriving, supportive, and nurturing. One student shared:

it feels so good to see black professors, engineers, and administrators that care about us and our future. It lets me see that it can be done.”

Along this path, several students shared this sentiment, but extended this aspect to include the relationship they have with faculty, as in this quote from my research:

“Faculty members here are like family. If you need something; anything, they try to help. I can remember when my family was displaced because of hurricane Rita, one of my professors found them a place to stay.”

This is to say, the HBC provides black students with more than an academic setting; it provides them a safe haven from the outside world and a reality in which they feel devalued. Students recognize the significance of the university setting as a place where they can learn and feel comfortable and confident about who they are and what they are attempting to be. Put best by one of my female participants:

“I never have to think about the fact that I am black when I am here. I am comfortable and when I look around, I see others that are like me trying to do similar things. It is really awesome to see.”

So, when it comes to helping black students obtain their dream of success through education, it is important that we remember the significance of the Historically Black College.