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The power and purpose of HBCUs

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Ashleigh Fields is a student at Howard University, of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States. She offers her thoughts on why she chose this university, the history these prominent institutions, and how her identity has become a part of her university experience. This is ­­her third story in our graduate voices series.

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By Ashleigh Fields

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are defined as schools for higher education established before the Civil Rights act of 1964. Their objective was to educate Black youth, many were escaped slaves that could not receive an education due to racial discrimination. Though HBCUs were founded in hopes of providing an opportunity for Blacks, they do not exclusively educate people of color. Despite the fact that a large portion of HBCUs were founded by whites with the goal of solidifying segregation amidst higher education. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, briefly named, “The African Institute”, was the first of these institutions, which opened in 1837 outside Philadelphia.

After the end of the Civil War in 1865, a federal organization called The Freedmen’s Bureau was created in hopes of aiding freed slaves and poor whites to recover from the aftermath of war through education. Under the leadership of General Oliver Otis Howard, the group worked to instate HBCUs throughout the South during the Reconstruction Era. Some of those schools include Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Howard University, which was named in Oliver’s honor. In spite of numerous efforts to diminish institutions such as these, many HBCUs have not only survived but thrived over the past century. They were able to produce legendary scholars such as Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokley Carmichael and Zora Neale Hurston.

To students considering attending an HBCU:

“If you attend an HBCU, you’ll discover the true worth of Black America and be equipped with the resources to add to its history”.

We are the finish line. We are a success story filled with a history of our own. The founding and inception of institutions that educate and inspire Black students holds a heavy weight in the ranks of America’s foundation.

Howard University is more than a school that Chadwick Boseman, Taraji P. Henson and Kamala Harris graduated from. We are more than a space for you to socialize and find your tribe. We are a place that is built of its people. And though we are uplifted by the legacies of revolutionary graduates, but they did not pull themselves up alone. Life was breathed into them. The kind that knocks courage with an academic curiosity. They were met with professors who presented them with challenges and honest critique. They were met with opposition from leadership, but it only further taught them how to problem solve.

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“We are more than a space for you to socialize and find your tribe. We are a place that is built of its people”.

At an HBCU, it truly is a different world. One that only exists in its classrooms, its dorms and the cafes. It breeds success through a unique form of competition. If you are Black this gives you the opportunity to experience what it is like to not be the token in the classroom. Now that you aren’t the only Black person in the room, you can truly be evaluated for your talent because you are free of gender roles and stereotypes. During these four years our approval isn’t at the standard of those casting the white glance, here we aim for the Black bullseye.

The Mecca is a holy place. One of reflection and stillness amidst a chaotic crowd. A place where joy and praise are plentiful. And people eagerly flock to bow their heads and serve. Serve their God, His people, this Earth. As a Black student, being at Howard University elicits that same feeling in me. Every HBCU deserves respect for the mere fact that they are the substructure for the crusaders of our culture. If you attend an HBCU, you’ll discover the true worth of Black America and be equipped with the resources to add to its history.

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Ashleigh Fields is a graduate of East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. She continued her studies at Howard University in the United States. She is an honors journalism major and political science minor. On weekends, you are likely to find her running track. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here. 

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