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I Have Been Privileged To Attend An HBCU: But As A Queer White Student, Did I Deserve To?

I have been beyond blessed and absolutely privileged to have the college experience I have. Attending an HBCU [Historically Black College or University] is unlike anything you can imagine. As a white, queer student I often question whether or not I am deserving of such a loving, family setting. Sometimes I feel as though it wasn’t my right and that maybe I shouldn’t have been in those classroom seats listening to raw emotion and conversations among my majority-black peers.

My graduating class and I at freshmen orientation In 2016.

Going to university I was very unclear of what I truly wanted. The one thing I knew was that I was going to put the money I earned from working hard in addition to scholarship money awarded to me due to my artwork, towards an institution. No one was going to pay my way, this was my effort. I knew I loved Northern Florida and when exploring public University options there and settling on Tallahassee I knew it was either Florida State University or Florida A&M University. Prior, I had very limited knowledge regarding Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This is of course thanks to the racism instilled in our education system, causing HBCU’s to receive little to no representation. The only time I’d heard the name FAMU be passed around was in a joking and mocking manor among my high school classmates. When considering my options the choice seemed obvious to me. I wanted my money to go into the pockets of black leaders and an institution that was there for the community, especially black students.

The decision to attend an HBCU definitely swayed my career path. Half way into my first year I knew I wanted to be a social worker. I saw the way my peers fought for each other and after my time teaching art and working in Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, Cuba, and right here in the United States I knew that my place in this world was using my privilege to be a voice for those who aren’t heard. My goal of course is to genuinely sacrifice myself to help others, not to gain a white savior complex. I love art and I’ve always wanted that to be my career path, but being at an HBCU filled with so many talented artistic individuals taught me that your artistic power can shine in any career, any setting, any path you choose.

It’s hard for me to explain to others just what this experience has been like. I often get those hesitant judgmental questions. “Ohhh you go to FAMU?..... how’s that been....” Amazing, it’s been amazing. The unwillingness to put yourself in uncomfortable situations is an unwillingness to learn. I always feared that my presence would stifle conversation, that my peers would word things differently in an attempt to not offend me. If my presence silenced black voices, then my presence was absolutely a disservice. I can only hope that was never the case. At the same time I wish that all white students could learn the things that are taught at HBCUs. Things were said to me and taught to me that I would never have learned being at a PWI [predominately white institution]. I would have never been required to complete an African American History course to graduate, I wouldn't have been offered a Black Religions in America and an African Humanities course to fulfill my humanities credits. I would have never been the only white person in the room having reality told to me exactly how it is. As a social worker I know that this form of education was more vital to me than anything I could have learned at any societally revered, top rated predominately white university. I am more than proud to have attended the illustrious Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. I want nothing more than to go on and do great things so that when people check to see where I studied, they see FAMU listed. I know that I will be one of many of my classmates to go on to do good. I learned from them what true greatness is and I can only hope to be half as great as many of my peers.

I say all this simply to encourage a conversation. Should white students attend HBCUs? I don’t have the right to speak on my opinions of HBCUs and what I think of white students attending them [and if you aren't black, neither do you], as on the fence as I am about it. This of course is mainly due to the results I found when searching 'white students at HBCU's' I found a lot of responses of students with individuality complex's saying things like: 'I was discriminated against for being white' or 'students and faculty liked me more because they were white'. These online conversations scared me. I was instantly disgusted and turned off by this. I think it requires a lot of understanding and willingness to learn in order to accomplish attending an HBCU in a respectful and non-invasive manor, I simply wonder whether it is possible at all. I can only speak from my experience and the concerns I have about my own place here. Or is this just unhelpful white guilt that needs to be gotten over on my end? I am not black so what I think about black issues does not matter. What does matter is that I am bettering myself to fight the good fight.


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