Why I chose to attend a historically black college- as a white person
When I was a senior in high school and started considering where I wanted to go to college, racial demographics were never a factor for me. I ended up at Howard University where the majority of students are black and I am among a small minority of white students.
When I decided to attended Howard, I knew going in that I would
be a minority but I really didn’t know what this would mean on a day to day basis over the course of four years. Two years in, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the black community.
I’m more comfortable with myself and more confident about who I am because I’ve been forced to answer, to myself and to others, why I’m here. I’ve learned about the many challenges that you never have to think about if you’re not a minority and the kinds of questions and obstacles you face from not being able to easily blend in.
Fortunately, I grew up in a home in Connecticut where race was never an issue. It was never pointed out and it was never discussed. I simply knew from a young age that different people had different physical features that were irrelevant to the value of the person. Growing up I thought everyone shared my views. I’ve learned in the past few years, however, that this is not the case and that people have different life experiences and different views based on those experiences.
So how did I get here? When I started my college search in 2010 I looked for schools located in cities I thought would be exciting places to live. I also wanted schools with decent lacrosse teams and that would offer me scholarships to play for them. I narrowed my search to Marymount University in Alexandria, Va., Philadelphia University and American University here in DC.
My older sister Sally gave me advice that ultimately helped me decide my college future. She said I should apply to Columbia University and Howard University; Columbia as a “stretch school” that would likely be hard, or a stretch, for me to get into, and Howard as a way to step out of my comfort zone and experience being a minority.
She thought Howard would teach me important life lessons that I could never get at a predominantly white institution. Sally had spent time as the only non-Israeli and non-Jewish person in the Israeli Army during a year in Israel.
The following year she taught school at a Native American reservation in Northwestern Canada where she was the only white person on the reservation. (We are dual citizens of Canada. I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but raised in Connecticut.) I’d always trusted and valued her opinions but I’d never considered attending either of the schools she suggested. I was more focused on applying to schools that where interested in recruiting me to play lacrosse.
In December 2010 I decided on Marymount University and committed to its lacrosse team. In January 2011 I got an unexpected call from the coach of Howard’s lacrosse team. She had seen me play the previous spring at a statewide lacrosse tournament for Connecticut high school juniorsand invited me to come down for a visit. She was interested in recruiting me to play for Howard.
Despite my commitment to play for another school, everything seemed to be pointing me toward Howard. My sisters’ advice and my college goals appeared to coincide. Howard offered me an athletic scholarship that covered a portion of the tuition and an academic scholarship that paid for the rest. It was more money than Marymount had offered me. Howard’s lacrosse team was also better than Marymount’s. It was a no brainer; I accepted the offer.
Friends and family immediately questioned my decision. Some dismissed it as a joke. Black friends and acquaintances laughed at the prospect of my attending a mostly all black college. White friends and acquaintances were confused about why I would want to go. My parents, who’d always encouraged me to make my own decisions, worried about the prospect of my being a member of a minority group for four years and questioned whether I could handle it.
I knew attending a black college would be different and I prepared myself for the challenge. It was not until I visited the campus on “accepted students’ day” that I learned what HBCU stood for. I had no idea that Howard was an officially designated “Historically Black College or University” and that there were 106 other HBCUs around the country.
Initially coming to Howard was, as my sister predicted, outside of my comfort zone. I was stared at more frequently than I had ever experienced. I was different and some people on campus didn’t like that. For the first time I was asked for a “white person’s” opinion in class. Being different was not something I was used to. Having teammates that shared my love of lacrosse helped made me feel emotionally supported. The camaraderie and companionship that comes with being part of a group of players is a daily source of encouragement.
As my second year at Howard comes to a close, I’m more grateful for every day I’ve spent here. I appreciate the experience, and the challenge, of being automatically viewed within a certain stereotype by some people and being able to challenge or change those views. It gets tiring and uncomfortable sometimes but it has taught me a lot and helped me grow. I have perspectives on American race relations, history, and the oppression of black people and that I never had growing up and would never have had I not come to Howard.
The hardships, breakthroughs, and strength I have been able to witness in another people are astonishing. I know that I’m much more culturally equipped than I was two years ago, although I still have many more lessons to learn.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience life through a different looking glass and know that I’m a different person as a result.Continue reading this post »
Historically black colleges are seeing an increase in white students
For several months, students at Howard University’s school of communications have been writing stories for The RootDC about a range of local and national issues. The students have written about college students struggling to pay rising tuitions after their parents had lost jobs and homes to foreclosures and the impact of funding cuts to public school arts programs in poor communities, among other issues. Today, The RootDC is publishing the story below by Allyssa Paddock on the increase of white students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
White students are becoming a more frequent sight on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country. Although African Americans still make up the large majority of the students at HBCUs, the enrollment rate of white students has grown in recent years.
As more African-American students attend majority white institutions, there are more available slots open at HBCUs for non-black students and more possibilities for diversity on the campuses.
Although HBCUs were originally created to educate black people who were excluded from attending white colleges and universities during the era of racial segregation, over time they became a source of pride for many in the black community. These institutions once provided educational opportunities that blacks could not get anywhere else and helped graduates launch impressive careers. They also churned out some of the country’s leading black political and cultural figures, such as author and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who both graduated from Howard University.
As a result, many people are very protective of the unique historical legacy and mission of HBCUs, and opinions are still divided over whether the increasing diversity on formerly all-black campuses is a positive development.
“Although I appreciate all races and have friends of all kinds at home, I definitely think that Howard was created for black students and the integrity of the majority black institution should remain that way,” said Courtland Lackey, a junior at Howard. “I don’t see why other races would attend when it was created for the benefit and growth of our black race and culture.”
Several white students who attend HBCU’s said that in many cases they welcomed being in a different kind of cultural environment. Jillian Parker, a senior at Howard University, who is white, said she learned a lot at Howard and really enjoyed her experience for unique reasons.
“As a school, I love it and I love the people. I really enjoy being unique and for that reason I appreciate my experience,” she said. “I feel as though you have a bit more notoriety being so different at a place like this. I think that I truly learned one hundred times more in terms of life and culture than I ever would have at a predominantly white university. It has been a blessing and a growing experience.”
But others said it’s a tough adjustment going to a black school Daryl Bradley, a white freshman said that her experience on campus has been mixed.
“I would only suggest it to another white person if I knew they had a strong self-esteem and were outgoing enough to make friends easily,” she said in an interview. “Being the minority is something “white people” are not used to.”
Many public HBCUs are required by law to meet certain racial diversity quotas in order to maintain state accreditation and funding. They do this by recruiting students from high schools with large numbers of white and Hispanic students. As a consequence, public HBCUs, such as Delaware State University, which is 13 percent white according to collegeboard.com, have higher minority populations than HBCUs such as Hampton University which is five percent white, and Howard, which has a student body that is one percent white.
Overall, the percentages of minority students at HBCUs are rising at a much higher level on public campuses than on private campuses. On public campuses, scholarships are being offered to increase minority attendance and many non-black students, including Latinos and Asian, are choosing these institutions as the best education for their dollar. At private campuses, students of other races may choose an HBCU for the cultural experience, the educational rigor, or an athletic or academic scholarship.
On an individual level, many HBCU students and professors welcome the idea of more integrated and diverse campuses and classrooms. Others believe predominantly black institutions were founded for the development and success of black individuals and feel strongly that those ideals should remain.
Some students such as Sydney Satchel, a junior at Howard, support the idea of an integrated institution and readily accept the addition of white and other non-black students – as long as they remain a minority on campus.
“I think that it is a learning experience for both cultures to blend at a majority black institution and therefore I fully support white attendance at Howard and all other HBCUs. I think white students at Howard can bring new opinions to the area and institution and receive many good lessons as well,” she said. “However, I hope that the majority of HBCUs always remain predominantly black and carry on the traditions, culture, and legacy they were created for.”
JoVon McCalester, a political science professor at Howard and alumnus of the university, has seen the increase in diversity firsthand in the past decade.
“I think a white person attending an HBCU is a positive thing and fosters a couple of different perspectives. One, I think it gives white students a chance to be a minority and therefore the ability to be more sympathetic to minorities in society.”
He continued:”It gives them another view point of the same narrative in terms of them being able to hear opinions from an entirely different perspective than they had growing up.”
Sheryll Cashin, a law professor at Georgetown University and an expert on American race-relations, believes that white students attending HBCUs reflect larger cultural shifts that the country is experiencing.”
“I think that it is indicative of our growing comfort with difference,” she said. “There is a growing class of a group of people who I call the culturally dexterous, people who welcome diversity. A person who is culturally dexterous willingly interspaces an area where they are a minority. I believe that with that group growing, the diversity in HBCUs and other institutions will continue to increase.”
Greg Squires, a professor of sociology and public policy at George Washington University, said even as predominately white institutions become more diverse and reach out to students of color, “I think there is justification for black schools to remain the way they were built, as vehicles for expanding opportunity for black people.
“Black institutions and institutions for women have a certain right to remain not diverse if they so choose that other institutions do not.”
Still, as the number of white faces at HBCUs increase so do questions about what their presence means and what kind of impact they will have on HBCUs collectively over time.
“HBCUs should be conscious of their historical mission and should continue to be places that lift up and support black students,” Cashin stated. “But they should not exclude white students. They should be open to those who are attracted to them. It would be the height of hypocrisy and immoral to exclude someone solely because of their race.”
Doing away with food deserts in the District
It’s hard to believe that so many in America -- over 50 million people -- live in food insecurity. This is the unfortunate reality all too common in Somalia or Pakistan, but America? What’s worse is that this food insecurity is most apparent in our nation’s capital.
Yet, nearly 13 percent of all households in the District were food insecure between 2009 and 2011. Over 4 percent were
considered to have "very low food security," which means, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, they are experiencing intense hunger and cutting back or skipping meals on a more frequent basis. Worse, 37.4 percent of households with children in the District of Columbia said they were unable to afford enough food. This is the worst rate in the nation.
Conveniently for DC’s political elite, and for much of DC’s touristy locales, these numbers are not noticeable in Northwest. Perhaps that’s why our city’s food insecurity problem is never addressed. It is, by and large, plaguing the polar opposite – Southeast – in Wards 7 and 8. They have the District's highest poverty rates, the largest "food deserts,” and, as a result of the lack of proper nutrition, the city's highest obesity rates – all of which unnecessarily inflates government healthcare and social service costs.
A “food desert” is a place with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet but often served by plenty of fast food. This is very characteristic of Ward 8’s Anacostia, which recently lost its only organic health foods store. But forget organics for a second, there aren’t even sufficient full-service grocery stories. Examining the District’s 43 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 4, four in Ward 7, and three in Ward 8. In contrast, Ward 3 - the highest-income Ward - has eleven full-service stores.
We are simply not serving our citizens sufficiently. Last week, at an event organized by DC’s Department of General Services and hosted by Mayor Vince Gray and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, a company called BrightFarms announced its plan to build a 100,000 square-foot, state-of-the art greenhouse farm on a vacant, 10-acre lot in Ward 8.
The farm is designed to grow up to one million pounds of local produce per year. Put another way, the Southeast greenhouse will grow enough crops to meet the fresh-vegetable-consumption needs of up to 5,000 (hopefully southeast) residents, which is critical since few of the city's 30 farmers' markets are located east of the Anacostia River.
This is certainly welcome news, even if the greenhouse won’t open until 2014. According to this paper, which covered the event, “the facility’s 1 million pounds of produce will be sold in city and suburban stores and possibly to chefs and local residents as well.” BrightFarms hasn’t found a grocery partner yet (Anacostia, anyone?), but hopes to by the end of May.
And while Ward 8 is desperately in need of jobs, as the average unemployment rate in Ward 8 in 2012 was over 22 percent (one of the highest in the country), this greenhouse isn’t really about jobs, despite how the event was spun. Yes, the 25 full-time jobs and 100 short-term construction jobs that BrightFarms is bringing is beneficial. There is no question there.
The real gift to the community, however, is the one million pounds of GMO-free produce that the greenhouse will generate – provided it actually gets into the homes of Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents living in chronic food insecurity. This is the real test.
Don’t get me wrong; we need more companies like BrightFarms. Last fall, according to this paper, they approached 20 cities with plans to build urban greenhouses and the Department of General Services responded enthusiastically. The Mayor was right to move quickly on this as it fits perfectly within his Sustainable DC agenda.
Since the farm is local and water and energy efficient, produce will be fresher, require less gas mileage for transport, use less waste and no pesticides and herbicides, and will ultimately be greener – all of which is good for the environment.
But where the rubber hits the road is when the tomatoes, lettuce and herbs are ready for harvest. Will the food-insecure households of Ward 7 and Ward 8 be able to access and afford these healthy and nutritious foods? They better; otherwise this project fails to fix the most pressing chronic problem facing this city: hunger.
While I agree with Stan Jackson, president and chief executive of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp, the local partner on this project, when he says this greenhouse farm starts “building job opportunities in the area of agriculture that could lead to living-wage experiences for residents that have been victims of long-term and chronic unemployment,” but we need much more than that in Ward 7 and Ward 8.
Without a doubt, we need bright farms in DC, but we’ll need a lot more than one greenhouse if we want to kick food insecurity and food deserts to the curb. That’s what a real “Sustainable DC” plan would look like. It is time for the Mayor to step up and start one.Continue reading this post »
State of Equality and Justice in America: The Presumption of Guilt
After serving 42 years in an Arizona prison for a crime he didn’t commit, a 58-year-old man was finally released this April. When Louis Taylor was just 16, he ventured out of his comfort zone to try a happy hour advertised by an upscale Tucson hotel, a typical foray for an adventurous teenage boy.
Unfortunately, that night a fire broke out that ultimately claimed 29 lives. In that moment, Taylor stopped being typical and became extraordinary. He did not run from the danger as most people would. Instead he took responsibility. He was spotted during the crisis busily helping people escape the flames, escorting guests to safety and assisting people on stretchers.Continue reading this post »
Food trucks test their pull in the District
Washington’s food-truck lobby is playing a dangerous game of chicken with city regulators. Last week, when the D.C. Council’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs listened to public comment about proposed regulations on the mobile vending industry, one thing was clear: playing hardball with the city might not be the best tactic.
Officials are considering regulating the hundreds of food trucks that roam the city. Concerned that the rules will curb what has largely been an unregulated industry, the Food Truck Association of
Metropolitan Washington argued against everything from rules that would limit the number of vehicles at specific locations to a lottery-based system. Some supporters have even argued that the trucks shouldn’t be regulated at all.
“I think the reality is that we need to keep our customers, and what we want is our mobility,” said Justin Vitarello, co-owner of the Fojol Bros. food trucks.
But there is one flaw in that strategy: The trucks have proliferated because the lack of regulation has made it easier to do business in the District.
To think they won’t have some regulation seems unrealistic, especially since the alternative could be that the city could slap them with a more dire fate: If these regulations don’t pass, the city’s Department of Transportation has threatened to start enforcing the old ‘ice cream truck’ laws, which are far more restrictive than what’s currently proposed. In effect, the food truck association is arguing against rules that could keep the industry alive.
The city wants to corral what has become a burgeoning, likable industry, as a way to please everyone involved in the debate over the best use of public space. And officials argue that they’ve bargained in good faith. The day of the hearing, chaired by Council member Vincent Orange (At-Large), the two city agencies released a plan that would make 180 locations available for mobile vendors in the District.
The truck lobby didn’t budge from its position.
“They decided to take their ball and [go] home,” Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), said of the negotiations. “That’s not the way you regulate. We had always said that we’re going to put something out there.”
But the food trucks’ tactic is a calculated move. They want to fight this battle in the court of public opinion — a gamble that the association thought it had to take.
“I said at the hearing, ‘Why’d y’all walk away? Why aren’t you still trying to hammer this out?’ I think they got to a point where they felt like, you know what, they’re not going to come around to what we think is the best here. We need to get the government, you know, the council, involved,” Council member David Grosso (D-At Large), who sits on the committee, said.
For his part as chair of the subcommittee in charge of this, Orange has an incredible task of trying to mend fences. And the committee still has a last option that could satisfy all.
“I also met with the attorney general, and he’s going to look at the law to see if the council can in fact delete some provisions. If we can do that, I can really push for a compromise,” Orange said. “That would be the best situation right now.”
The trucks have argued that they’re a community-building group operating in the best interest of the city, even if many of them are based outside of it. If that’s the case, they should embrace the chance to reach out to more communities than just the downtown lunch crowd. And with a June 22 deadline to vote on the matter, we could see a drastically different summer of food if things don’t break a certain way.
But don’t fret, Orange said. “I would venture to say that the food trucks are here to stay. I don’t see them going anywhere.”Continue reading this post »