I wanted to begin the weekend with something upbeat. I've been in such a silly mood all week. But just as I started composing, I received a call from my boy, Dollar Bill the Hot Tub Don (pronounced all at once like A Tribe Called Quest).
I haven’t seen or heard from him all summer, so I was genuinely surprised. However, I don’t want to know where he has been or what he has been doing. I don’t want to be called to testify in court later. What sordid lives some of us lead. But I digress.
As I began the article, my judgment was already skewed. I readied myself to be angry and outraged. Dollar Bill the Hot Tub Don (pronounced all at once like A Tribe Called Quest) opened his email to me by describing Maxwell as a Ronald Reagan Democrat and used language such as “very biased” and “racist.” But by the fourth paragraph, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. His experience almost directly mirrored my own.
What I found at this particular HBCU simply broke my heart. The very first thing I realized after I began was that the culture of the institute was unlike any other university or college campus I had ever attended or visited. The culture better approximated a street or ‘hood culture than a culture of learning and intellectual attainment. Early on I joked to a college that the students’ conversation seemed particularly animated by “the two f’s”—fornicating and fighting.
But by biggest surprise awaited me in the classroom.
Since this was a private institution, I expected small classes, but I found myself crowded into an undersized classroom with about thirty-five students. And while grading the writing samples taken on the first day of class, I began to realize just what I had gotten myself into. Very few of the students evinced anything close to college level writing skills. Over the course of my tenure there, I found myself expending most of my energy simply teaching basic grammatical skills.
Most students were unwilling to engage in any type of intellectual labor; most of them refused to even read in preparation for class. Imagine standing in front of a literature class attempting to teach a text that no one had even read.
However, my greatest moment of bewilderment came at the end of the semester when I was required to turn in grades for the semester. In my years of teaching, I had never given as many “Fs” as I gave that first semester which prompted a high level administrator to all me in for a short chat.
But his was not meant to be some long diatribe against HBCU’s; it is not my intention to paint all HBCU’s with a broad brush. There are quite a few HBCU's out there with a long tradition of excellence. But the smaller schools are struggling due to the talent drain caused by integration among other factors. And when keeping the doors open surpasses education as the ultimate goal, what are you left with?
Additionally, I still believe in, support and am committed to the mission of HBCU’s. In addition, I realize that in most cases, these schools are simply working with what they get. Too many African American students, mostly from economically depressed areas, are graduating high school after receiving inferior educations, and these schools offer the only hope they have of receiving college degrees. Furthermore, having to constantly struggle just to keep the doors open presents other serious problems as well.
But what I am hoping you, the reader, will offer me today is answers and maybe solutions. What was your experience in an HBCU? How do we remedy these problems? Where do we go from here?