Any discussion of the desegation of historically black colleges will sooner or later get around to West Virginia State -- sometimes as a model of what true racial integration can be, sometimes as a horrible example.
From one viewpoint, this sprawling, low-rise campus, with its lush mountain backdrop, is a signal success.
The campus is lovely, its buildings attractive. Enrollment has grown from around 800 to more than 4,000. The physical plant, the faculty and the course offerings have kept the lively pace. p
Just last week, the college's president had the pleasant chore of explaining to a newspaper reporter from nearby Charleston why WVSC's enrollment has continued to grow at a faster rate (11.8 percent last year) than any of the other 15 state colleges and universities.
But there are people who will tell you that WVSC has betrayed its identity, forgotten its roots, lost its soul. What they mean is that this once all-black college is now 80 percent white.
By day, at least. Evenings and weekends, the pleasant campus goes black again, with the social life centering on black fraternities and sororities. The impression is of two quite different schools.
The reason is that WVSC has become overwhelmingly a commuter college. In the pre-1954, pre-desegregation days, nearly half of the students came from outside the state. Now nearly 95 percent are from the Charleston area, which is overwhelmingly white. The remainder -- virtually all of them black and from out of state -- are the only dormitory students.
Most of the faculty and student body seem to have made their peace with the radically changed situation at West Virginia State.But a number of the older alumni feel that something of value has been taken from them.
The head of the alunmi association will tell you sad stories of the former Staters who refuse to contribute to the school because it has "gone white."
He tells them the way to fix it is to recruit black students. But in fact he knows that can't work.
As President Harold McNeill, who is black, explains, "Even if every black high school graduate of the entire state came to West Virginia State, and those were the only ones who came, we couldn't keep the doors open." The reason: West Virginia's black population is less than 6 percent.
Demographics, location, low-cost tuition ($208 a semester for West Virginia commuters) and a number of other factors mean that WVSC is likely to remain what it is: a state college serving state high school graduates, in this case overwhelmingly white.
Some would argue that is what ought to happen at all historically black colleges, particularly the state colleges. Anything else, they say, is merely to continue a discredited system of racial segregation.
But others will offer no defense for segregation will argue that once a school has become established as black, with its own special traditions, emphases and sensitivities, it is racist to integrate it into oblivion.
Indeed, recent government efforts to merge nearby black and white schools (Old Dominion and Norfolk State, for instance, or Grambling and Louisiana Tech) have been characterized by some blacks as an assult on black schools.
Some who make this charge see West Virginia State as what the government officials have in mind as a model, and they don't like it.
"I don't think anybody would be in favor of racial segregation in this day and age," said a black faculty member at WVSC. "What we are looking for is what you might call integration without obliteration. To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not sure we've found it at West Virginia State."