A Different HBCU: Culture Over Time

Historically Black Colleges and Universities are well known for being institutions that bring a high level of diversity and tradition with a togetherness like no other. This leads to a well-established bond between students and staff that can be cherished for years. Although it is a blessing to attend any college and graduate with a degree, it is even more of an honor to graduate from an HBCU, and many students on Southern’s campus, and across the nation do well at showing their pride.

HBCUs are all unique individually but are all historic as a whole. The first HBCU founded was Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, originally called “the institute for colored youth” in 1837. Richard Humpherys, a Quaker philanthropist, knew that African Americans needed preparation for the changes to society, so he dedicated a tenth of his estate to create a new kind of institution. This then opened the door for other HBCU colleges to open, pushing more African Americans in America towards success.

Now, it is understood that HBCUs were created so that the African American race could thrive and prosper, but when students began to encounter HBCU colleges for themselves, they quickly realized that multimedia platforms generally popularized these institutions for what they once were, and not for what they are now. Prime examples include A Different World (1993), the film Drumline(2002), and Stomp The Yard filmed in 2007. A lot of younger people began to believe that the events portrayed in each show/film was all that HBCUs were about, without understanding the reality of it.

The more diversity students bring to HBCUs, the more the culture will continue to change. Fashion, tradition, and a set system all lead to students receiving the HBCU experience and becoming culture shocked. HBCUs in the 80s and 90s were mainly publicized as reinforcement to black empowerment, and played a major part in African Americans finding their way out of racist segregation. This became more than just receiving an education, and was now looked at as a way for African Americans to reclaim their power. Now in a modern-day society not only is segregation not a problem within the education system anymore, but attending an HBCU now means something different than what would have meant in the 90s. 

Typically HBCUs are known for different things which makes people’s reasoning for attending them much different. For example, Southern University is known for its outstanding program in Agricultural Science and Engineering, but publicized for its marching unit. Xavier University in Louisiana is known for its outstanding nursing program and publicized as a shrewd college. Students are now able to attend different HBCUs based off what they feel be a better fit for them, giving students the opportunity to be comfortable and to flourish in an environment that fits them.

Furthermore, the tradition has changed in that students no longer keep life on campus repetitive. Tiffany Knighten, an alumni and former Dancing Doll, was able to express how things were back when she was in college and how things are now. “You all have so much more freedom to express yourselves in any way you please, and have the power to enforce or change things you may not like, back when I was in college (1988) we had to take everything how it came, and of course we didn’t want to but we had no outlets to freely express ourselves. Now if you all don’t like certain originations you can easily go start your own, back then it was a ‘take it or leave it’ thing.”

The culture of HBCUs changed tremendously over time, pouring in some of the most creative and talented African American students. The opportunity to attend such amazing institutions allows students to be themselves, while still ensuring that they never feel less than apart. It is not the HBCUs that have shifted the culture but the students that pushed the purpose of HBCUs to be more than just a power of black intelligence. 

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