I just had one of the best months in the year of 2015: I started attending Howard University. It was truly one of the most beautiful moments I spent in a long time in a school environment.
I’ve never attended a historically black college before, so this was the first experience I’ve had in an HBCU. I got my first bachelor’s degree at a predominately white institution. I attended the University of Maryland for four years. Although, I loved my four year experience at UMD, it could never compare to my experience at Howard University.
When I first got accepted to Howard, I had mixed feelings about attending the school. For starters, it was a private institution so I didn’t know how I would be able to afford the tuition and secondly I’ve heard rumors that the administration there was disorganized so it wasn’t really worth attending the school. After doing a little more research about the school myself, I decided to attend because of the rich history it had and the amazing programs it offered. The richness of culture it possessed and the diversity of Howard definitely attracted my attention.
As I started my first day there, I did experience some of the things I heard about the administration. It took time for me to register for my classes due to some of my paperwork being misplaced, I kept hearing multiple and inconsistent information about registration, I was having technical issues with my email among a whole bunch of other things. During my first few days there, I was so disappointed because instead of focusing on my classes, I was trying to resolve issues that should’ve been resolved before I started attending classes. After a few days, all of the issues started to resolve and I started to adapt to my new environment.
Despite the minor technical and administration issues I experienced there, I started loving and embracing the environment more and more each day. All of a sudden, the feeling I remembered to have while attending UMD wasn’t there anymore: the feeling of an outsider and un belonging went out of the window. For the first time since leaving Ethiopia, I felt apart of a classroom setting. I felt like I was apart of a thriving and beautiful community.
Another aspect I loved about attending HU was my walk from the metro station to the school each morning. My walk consisted of me passing various kinds of people who were simply being. They didn’t feel the need to change the way they were or how they lived. Their stories were so easy for me to read on their faces. Some of them danced to loud music, some of them greeted me in such a warm way, some of them were students like me who were so focused to get to school that they paid little attention to their surroundings, some of them rushing with their morning lattes, some of them were employees who had their Howard name badges proudly displayed on their uniforms and some of them were young women who had their lovely, and beautiful hair styled naturally and wore it so proudly. Seeing this everyday from the metro station started my day off right. I even questioned why I was never apart of this beautiful community for the many years I lived in the US. I was truly touched.
I also started making new friends. The students I met in my classes were so nice, everyone approached me in a positive way. They all wanted me to do well and you can tell that by simply looking at their eyes. As I got to my class, some of my classmates would remind me what was due for that day and asked me if I finished my assignments for the week. Some of them would suggest that we study together or work on projects together, and some of them would simply look at me and smile. All of a sudden I started to feel like I was home. I knew I was safe there, and very comfortable. This was when I knew I made the right choice by going to Howard. This was when I realized how important it was for minorities and people of color to have an HBCU experience no matter how short or long. Since I felt safe at HU and the environment I was exposed to, I started to look at the wold through my own eyes and a different lens, instead of the lens I was looking through before this sweet experience. I definitely noticed the positive effects attending Howard had on me right away.
I used to always shrug the idea that minorities should attend HBCU’s because minorities shouldn’t be put in a box and told where to attend, rightfully so. We are obviously very different and not all of us fit this narrative and should attend HBCU’s. I get that, trust me but after having this experience, my mind shifted. I used to always talk about the fact that I had a very positive experience at a PWI and other minorities are capable of getting that same experience at a PWI. Even now, I still affirm the fact that I had a positive experience at a PWI and made great friends and a community of people who I’m still in touch with, but the feelings could never compare.
After attending an HBCU, I can now attest to the fact that yes HBCU’s do impact minorities in a very different, positive and lasting way. It makes minorities see the world and their interactions through this own, unbiased eyes, instead of the institution they attend. Minorities who attend HBCU’s don’t have to constantly think about race day in and day out because the people they interact with everyday are people of color who have positions of power, so they start looking at the world through that spectrum, instead of another spectrum they’re unconsciously receiving.
Attending Howard University enabled me to create that world in America for me, the world I didn’t see existing. Whenever, I looked at the larger minority population, it was always negativity and stereotypical images I was used to seeing. I’ve always had to fight to create positive images in my head, which I knew to be true. After I attended HU, I didn’t have to fight to create these images for myself, they were already there for me, beautifully put together every morning. I didn’t have to lament on every situation/interaction I went through because all of a sudden everything felt so freeing. I didn’t have to put my guards up and choose the kinds of things I was saying and doing because all of a sudden I felt safe and at ease with where I was and who I was surrounded with. Attending Howard University showed me that I was valued and that I had worth, and there were plenty of people who loved me and acknowledged my existence in American society. I hope you are able to find a place you are loved, honored and can just be.
Peace and Love,