Updated: Apr 27
By: Hallie Allen
As soon as I got accepted to A&T, I stopped applying to other schools. I already knew where I wanted to be. I felt it. I visited North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University when I was 16 and it instantly felt like home. I vividly remember how happy the current students and staff were to walk us around campus or simply share their experiences with us. I connected with their joy. They genuinely seemed proud of where they were, and their happiness made A&T feel like a place I had to experience too.
Culturally, we are often cautioned about HBCUs - almost as if they cause some type of detriment to the quality of our education. This energy strangely vanishes when a Black student goes to a predominately white institution though. Most HBCU students have heard some iteration of the HBCU vs. PWI argument or have had some jaded comparison of “the real world” explained to them before starting their HBCU journey. What saddens me is that these conversations are not only birthed from colonized ideas of “success”, but our community keeps them alive.
The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill had to be one of the most stressful places I’ve ever experienced. The environment itself was traumatic and in hindsight, I actually think I may have hated it…I’ve never expressed that until now.
I felt an overwhelming disconnection from almost everybody around me on that campus. My very first day of grad school was interrupted by racially driven protests against a confederate statue and student arrests. I guess “the real WHITE world” didn’t hesitate to make its presence known... but this wasn’t the world that I grew to cherish and prefer over the past 4 years, and it was unfathomable to think that this was the world that people urged me to consider “real”.
By the end of that year, I had a professor go to no end encouraging me to drop out of the 2-year program. This advice was whispered peacefully enough that if one weren’t conscious, they could have been fooled into believing it was in their best interest. I found the only thing more turbulent than defending my existence in the world. I defended myself against battles in my mind in every single room, every single day, on that campus.
I wasn’t the self I previously knew. I experienced academic probation for the first time right before my final semester. The conversation during my appeal, with a panel of white professors, ultimately concluded with me explaining how racism impacts a Black student’s academic success and overall experience before I was eventually reinstated to finish. As a Black student there, my perquisites were different. I’m almost certain I even had an anxiety attack at one point in those 2 years. I could continue my reflection…but much of me is still processing what I even went through.
Transparently, I felt regret in choosing a PWI for grad school sometimes. It felt like I went against my truth, especially as an HBCU graduate. Time and time again, I had to check in with myself to ensure I wasn’t falling into the psychological trap of using whiteness as a testament to my achievement. At the end of the day, I know I didn’t but as a Black woman, in THAT space, I couldn’t help but ask myself “what did I really gain by going to this school”?
When I chose to go to UNC, I considered several things. I knew that power lies in information, and I needed more of it to make necessary changes in Black experiences. I was curious about what I didn’t know. I also knew that there was a correlation between Black experiences and the social power of white institutions. I questioned the continued systems that continue to persecute Black people. How do we know how to fight against something if we don’t know how it truly works? I hoped for an educational experience that could grant me access to information that I could reinvest in our culture. I think the rebel in me also wanted to challenge this country’s desperate need for Black people to be absent from spaces that systematically work against us.
While the sequel of the story is still manifesting, one thing is for certain. I’m forever grateful for my HBCU, first.
Never discount yours.
If only I could have known.
Things we buy into.