Every event in life can be traced to a decision prompted by a course of actions that led to a particular moment. The challenge in decision-making is quite often having an educated opinion that leads us to an informed decision. I have made many uninformed decisions and relied on the luck of the draw to pull me through…college included.
Scholastically I was always a good student. My grades never dipped below a C, and I skated through high school with relative ease. Because of my long-term participation in a science- and math-based summer program, I had earned a five-year full ride in the University of Cincinnati’s engineering department. Without a second thought, I jumped at the opportunity…but for all the wrong reasons. With academics being somewhat of a natural strong suite for me, I found myself cutting loose a little too much and giving in to certain pressures of campus life that a college freshman encounters. Although my parents were a 30-minute drive away, staying in the dormitory served me a taste of the unadulterated freedom for which I had so long broke curfews. The end of my freshman year found me on academic probation with a far lower grade point average than I had ever seen in my life.
A college is a college, and regardless of how much tuition a student pays, they get what they welcome into their lives. At this point, I was faltering academically based on decisions I made socially. Furthermore, there was no built-in support system to catch me as I slipped. The class sizes lent themselves to teachers not really forming a bond with their students. It felt almost as if it didn’t matter whether I made it thru a semester, let alone a year. Although I was unaware of it at the moment, my college experience was not living up to my personal standards that I had set for myself; almost instinctively, I knew I had to change my surroundings before they changed me. Enter the HBCU.
Although I attended the local black college tour in high school, I had never really given much thought to picking a college. I hadn’t even really picked my major so much as it had picked me. I enjoyed math, but I wasn’t as passionate about math or engineering as I was about art in general.
For the most part, I decided on North Carolina A&T based on a few recommendations and a whim; however, the black college tour played heavily into this decision. Everything I had experienced academically pointed to engineering, but I ended up picking graphic design as my major. I was at one of life’s crossroads, and in looking back, I feel that deciding to go to an HBCU was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Honestly, at times I think it saved my life.
Upon arrival and settling into the campus, I immediately fell in love. This was my first time ever seeing black letter organizations and step shows. My first experience with battling marching bands and the level of showmanship involved. I had been to parties before but nothing like the campus-sponsored Gym Jams that seemed as if the entire student body crammed into. It was truly A Different World. Although I was alone and far from home, newfound kinships were forged instantly, and those bonds are still strong to this day. The class sizes and departments were smaller, making it easier for teachers to take inventory and become involved in the wellbeing of a student academically or otherwise. I recall teachers taking so much of our education personally that they almost became foster parents, offering anything they could in return for our commitment to learning.
Academia and campus life aside, for me the most amazing part of attending an HBCU was the sheer quantity of African Americans that were interested in their future. That may sound odd since the school I attended was a historically black university, but I don’t think my mind actually computed what I was getting myself into. Looking at the school in its actual historical context combined with the inundation of stereotypical media portrayal and negative journalism about our generation and specifically my ethnicity combined, there was something refreshing about knowing that everyone around you not only bears your burden but also wishes to enrich their lives. I actually walked the same campus as the Greensboro Four, organizers of the infamous sit-ins that sparked a movement throughout the South. There were still actual bullet holes in the walls from when the National Guard was sent out to open fire on rioting students. The atmosphere was steeped in history.
The two universities I attended contrast each other almost perfectly. Although my allegiance lies with North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, I learned something valuable from both of them; college is less about choosing what you want to be and more about choosing who you want to be. I found out that I wanted to be aware of myself and conscious of the struggles endured to help shape this nation. I can, with all due respect, say that my time spent at North Carolina A&T State University was invaluable in helping to shape my character and taught me a lot more than any book, study group, or final exam could ever capture.