Historically Black College and Universities, known by the acronym HBCUs, have long been a place for black Americans to receive an education, particularly when other schools would not accept them. The institutions were considered was a safe haven for many.
HBCUs were established after the American Civil War by African-Americans with support from religious missionary organizations in the northern region of the United States. They were initially created as a place for freed slaves who wanted to receive an education.
In recent months a spotlight has been directed on HBCUs due to the White House Initiative to Promote Excellence and Innovation at HBCUs, signed by President Donald Trump in late February. While President Trump signed the executive orders, HBCU presidents surrounded him in support of him and the initiative.
There was much controversy surrounding the meeting and the pictures taken during it. The meeting started to raise questions about the validity of HBCUs and why/if they are still serving a purpose. From Affirmative Action to the end of school segregation, some may wonder if they still are needed.
St. Louis on the Air producer Alicia Lee recently spoke with those close to HBCUs to understand more about them and their place in the spectrum of higher education today.
Three Harris-Stowe State University students, along with the school’s president, Dwaun Warmack, gave their perspective on the importance of the institutions.
Listen to their discussion here and read their reasoning behind attending an HBCU below:
Dwaun Warmack, president of Harris-Stowe State University:
Dwaun Warmack, the president of Harris-Stowe State University, said that no one ever seemed to question the need of other minority-serving institutions, but when they are questioned, HBCUs are usually focused on more than other institutions.
“It is interesting that we have this dialogue in this day and time,” Warmack said. “Where we don’t ask the question, ‘do we still need predominantly white institutions?’ We don’t ask the question, ‘do we still need Jesuit institutions?’ We don’t ask the question, ‘do we still need other minority institutions?’ We don’t ask the question, ‘do we still need gender-specific institutions?’ We don’t ask the question, ‘do we still need religious institutions?’ What makes America is the diverse educational opportunities that you can receive in this society and, so, yes, there is a need for HBCUs and remains the need for those great intuitions that have been educating the community for a very long time.”
Warmack said he thought that HBCUs had, at times, received a bad reputation. He explained that even though they may not be presumed so, HBCUs are diverse and do have as many resources as predominantly white institutions.
“What you cannot debate is the quality that comes out of these institutions: the amount of doctors, PhDs, individuals in STEM, the amount of federal judges, the amount of lawyers that come from HBCUs. So these institutions, you can’t say they are bad, but they are producing all the model citizens that happen in this country.”
Warmack was one of the presidents to meet President Trump about his HBCU Initiative earlier this year. He said of the meeting, “if we are not at the table, we are not on the menu.” He further said that he believes that communicating and keeping a strong relationship with the White House is something that will be more beneficial in the long run.
Reid Chunn, Harris-Stowe student, originally from St. Louis:
“I came from a PWI (predominantly white institution),” Chunn said. “My biggest complaint with them is that it wasn’t a family, nothing was together. I went to the financial aid office, because, under law, I am an independent student so financial aid was hard for me and I felt like I did not get the right kind of support. But when I came to Harris Stowe, the admissions office, they were, ‘whatever you need, just let us know, and we will do our absolute best.’ I feel like being at an HBCU incorporates black culture and what I am used to growing up. It makes me more comfortable and when you are comfortable, you will just do better in school.”
Erica Wise, Harris-Stowe student, originally from St. Louis:
“My high school was predominantly white and it was just very, I mean, I made my fit and made my way through it,” Wise said. “It was definitely very uncomfortable and, just, people not understanding your hair, it just wasn’t a fit for me. So I definitely chose Harris-Stowe because it was an HBCU.”
Aaron Betite, Harris-Stowe student, from Los Angeles, California:
“If I could describe Harris-Stowe, as a person it would be ‘A woman who never gave up on me,’” Betite said. “I believe that a lot of HBCUs offer second chances; a lot of HBCUs cater to students with special needs, and come from different backgrounds, and special circumstances. And I think that was one of the main differentiators between an HBCU and possibly a PWI, because I also went to a PWI for community college and I never really got that there.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.