I sometimes wonder where I would be doing with my life had I gone to Hampton University in VA instead of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in NC. When I was applying to college, I knew that I wanted to go to the South, try someplace new. I had gone on those HBCU college tours and visited Hampton. We went to Howard first and I just knew I couldn’t be there. It seemed like too much fun, too distracting. I wasn’t confident that I could focus at Howard. Hampton seemed like Howard-lite. HBCU right on the water, quieter campus, nice facilities. I thought I could work with that. I got into all the schools I applied to, it’s just that Carolina took a very long time to send the acceptance letter. Since I didn’t want to wait until the last minute and I had visited Hampton (while I had never been to UNC), I sent my deposit to HU. It didn’t hurt that HU gave me a full 4-year scholarship (incl room, board and a computer). After I sent my deposit and got a roommate assigned, the letter from UNC arrived. I told my grandfather I wanted to go to Carolina and even though the deposit at HU was non-refundable, we kicked out another couple hundred dollars to send to UNC. A few months later, sight unseen, I rolled down to Chapel Hill for four years.
In retrospect, I don’t know why I wasn’t TOLD to go to Hampton. I mean, a full ride? I had a great financial aid package at UNC. I went there with a scholarship from my high school in addition to receiving a number of grants and awards. I still had a family contribution of nil so I guess it was no big deal. I never expected my family to be able to contribute to my college education and I would have taken out the entire thing in loans to be able to go where I wanted to go. Luckily I didn’t have to do that. So why would I turn down a cushy scholarship at a decent HBCU?
I just loved Carolina. I know, I know, I had never been there before. But I was sucked in by the beautiful viewbook they sent. You should have seen that thing. I think I had two. The pictures inside, the way the campus looked. The students. I was also into basketball at that time and I loved cheering on the Heels. It was such a well-known school. When I talked to my teachers and guidance counselor about it, they all seemed to be impressed. The school was in North Carolina and was more southern to me than VA, geographically and culturally. Most importantly, I didn’t know of anyone from my school in the few years before I graduated who had ever gone to UNC. Not a single person. People were always going down to Virginia for school. I didn’t want to go to college with people I went to high school with. I wanted to be different and blaze a new path. I wanted Carolina.
Fast-Forward to last weekend. I was at a beautiful wedding, having a great time. The groom went to Morehouse for undergrad and some of his college buddies were at the wedding. Somehow, I get in a convo with one of the guys that ends up with him telling me I didn’t go to an HBCU because I hate Black people. EXCUSE ME? Granted, he was tipsy and could have been making a lame attempt at a joke. However, that wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone say something along those lines. Then today, I was reading Ta-Nehisi and he flat out said, “I think anyone who didn’t attend Howard is deranged. While this mostly applies to black folks, you aren’t exempt white people,” and linked to that VA Tech study about the economic impact of HBCUs. Now, Howard alums are notorious for being fall down drunk with school pride (as they should, it’s a wonderful place), but the point still comes across: HBCUs are better than everywhere else and if you’re Black and didn’t go to one, something is wrong with you.
I never felt like I was depriving myself of THE “Black experience” by going to UNC. When I got there I was actually surprised by how visible and numerous the Black students were. Active in all aspects of campus, you hardly feel like the minority or that your interests are being ignored. Besides, UNC was in a great area for colleges. This was really a big drawing point. In 15 – 45min, you can be at North Carolina Central University, Shaw University, St. Augustine’s University, North Carolina A&T, and Bennett College, all HBCUs. You can get to Dook Univeristy (ok, Duke), Meredith College, Peace College, NC State, UNC-Greensboro, Elon University and probably a few other predominately white institutions (PWIs) in the same amount of time. UNC was uniquely situated in a hotbed of college activity. Yay!
I will concede that I deprived myself of A “Black Experience” by not going to an HBCU. Just being 15 minutes away, visiting there, partying there, and joining in BGLO activities doesn’t give you the entire experience. However, I’m alright with that. I didn’t feel the need to go to Hampton because I was thirsty for Black culture or history or whatever. If anything, I hadn’t been around enough white people growing up! I wanted to learn more about interacting with people of other cultures and backgrounds. Trust me, I received a great education academically, but the social education as just as valuable.
I wonder what things would have been like had I gone to Hampton. Would I have majored in something different? Traveled to different places? Would I have gone to law school? Where? For sure I wouldn’t have met the same people, the great people who have shaped my life and who I am right now. I can’t say if things would be better or worse, but certainly different.
My sister is graduating high school next week. Then she’s heading to Utica College. I tried to get her to apply to UNC. She didn’t. I really wanted her to apply to a HBCU. Even though I didn’t go, I believe that would have been a good environment for Vanessa. She grew up differently than I did. More sheltered, less culture, way less people of color. She NEEDS an HBCU. I think she’d have so much fun there and finally come out of her shell. She’d meet people from all over the world! But no. She wants to go to Lame University with the same people she went to Lame High School with. LOL.
I’m glad I went to Carolina and I’d do it all over again. That Hampton scholarship though… what was I thinking?!