Just after noon on the Howard University yard, members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity broke into an impromptu step show, bobbing and chanting as they stomped in unison.
Chad Bishop watched from a distance. In his three years on the Northwest Washington campus, he has become fully immersed in college life: student body treasurer, sports announcer, newspaper board member, resident adviser in a dorm.
"The people who are nice to me are genuinely nice, " says Chad Bishop, left, with Robert Jones at Howard.
(Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)
But Bishop, one of the few white students at this historically black university, said he has never felt quite comfortable enough to join a fraternity.
"You know, I started to pledge, but then I thought I shouldn't," Bishop, 24, said. "I wasn't sure how people would feel about it with the history and everything. I wasn't sure if people would understand why I wanted to do it."
Increasingly, white students are enrolling at the nation's 120 historically black colleges and universities, changing the landscape of institutions that were created when African Americans were barred from attending most colleges.
In the past quarter-century, the number of white students at these campuses has risen 65 percent, from 21,000 to nearly 35,000 -- an increase driven partly by court orders aimed at desegregation and partly by interest in programs these schools offer.
Some of these universities, such as West Virginia State University and Lincoln University of Missouri, are now majority-white. Others, struggling to meet court mandates for more white students, are using scant scholarship money to lure students from as far away as Russia.
Many educators said the changing demographics will enrich the educational experience for all students at the once all-black colleges.
"Boardrooms are not all black, and classrooms shouldn't be either," said Lee Young, admissions director at North Carolina A&T University, which actively recruits white students.
His school's increasing popularity with students of all races, Young said, is in many ways a measure of its success.
"What does it say about the value of your institution that people who didn't come before are now coming in droves to get in? It means that your institution has transcended color and now it is viewed as an institution of higher learning of impeccable choice."
Other activists and students, though, said this influx of white students is costing African Americans slots and scholarships at coveted schools and eventually could change the mission of these historically black colleges and universities, which are considered more nurturing than most other institutions.
"I feel like it will change the structure of the classes and the culture of the campus," said Tiffany Hawkins, 22, a senior telecommunications major at Baltimore's Morgan State University. "Now, we can speak freely. We learn about how things are different for us as black people. . . . In English class, we study black literature. In my media criticism class, we talked about how blacks are portrayed in the media.
"The focus is on us."