Are HBCUs Becoming Less Black?

Non-black students are invading the classrooms of Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country. While the influx of non-black students at HBCUs is slight, their presence does not go unnoticed.

HBCU students and faculty members have noticed the change in the enrollment of students in the past years.

Associate Director of Enrollment Management at Howard University, Tammy L. McCants recalled her undergraduate years at Howard University in the 1970s when there were only blacks in her classrooms before she transferred to the University of the District of Columbia.

“I don’t recall seeing anyone at Howard who wasn’t black with the exception of the increase in the international population,” she said. “Times have changed since I have graduated college.”

Now that more and more HBCUs are becoming more racially diverse some may consider them “less black.” According to FastWeb.com, schools like Bowie State University in Bowie Md., 91 percent black and four percent white.

“Howard admission applications do not have a section for students to identify their races or ethnicity,” McCants said. “This makes it difficult for us to actually know how many blacks are attending Howard verses non-blacks.”

Although it may seem that HBCUs are becoming “less black” with the high attendance of non-blacks, many say they are becoming diversified.

Dr. Edna Medford, associate professor of history at Howard University, said that other races have been attending HBCUs since they were established; this is just the first time non-blacks are being noticed in large numbers.

“The first four students at Howard University were four white females,” Medford said. “HBCUs have always been inclusive schools to everyone even though they are exclusive schools.”

Medford, a Hampton University alumna, said that Howard University, for example, has always been diverse, especially in the professional schools.

“Harris Wofford, former Senator from Pennsylvania, graduated from Howard Law in 1954 and he is white,” she said.

While HBCUs are becoming more diverse rather than “less black,” the question of whether HBCUs are losing the essence of their “blackness” is one that makes many wonder. Medford disagreed. “Non-black students coming into HBCUs only enrich the experience,” she said. “[HBCUs] shouldn’t be in isolation because that’s not how the real world is. Howard will retain its heritage no matter who is attending.”

Besides Medford, students also feel that the “blackness” of HBCUs will always remain, no matter who is sitting next to them in their classrooms.

Hampton University senior business management major Michael Williamson said diversity doesn’t affect the blackness of HBCUs because they are still predominantly black schools.

“Historically [HBCUs] were institutions for people of color but since then they are, and should be viewed as regular universities that have a rich history,” he said. “We no longer live in the day and age in which HBCUs are only for African Americans.”

Delaware State University freshman criminal justice major Asha McRae not only believes that the diversity of HBCUs will not affect the “blackness” of them but that the diversity of HBCUs will enrich the heritage and carry on the legacy of them.

“A long time ago, black and white students did not have the opportunity to diverse amongst each other or learn and attend the same schools,” she said. “But now that we have the opportunity to do these things, the diversity in HBCUs strengthens their legacies based upon which they were founded.”

Even though the majority of HBCU students like Williamson and McRae feel as though HBCUs are diversified through the influx of non-black students, others think differently. Sophomore political science major Ahmed Brown said HBCUs are diversified because of the wide range of cultures across the entire black Diaspora, not because of the non-black population.

“The [non-black] population will never significantly affect the diversity of an HBCU because diversity of Howard is achieved through black students who come from all over the world,” he said.