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.”