Many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States are located in what seems to be a geographical contradiction. These historical pipelines to higher education for African-Americans are generally surrounded by low-income, educationally challenged communities. But, after a century or more in existence, many of these institutions are still attempting to have a positive impact on their neighbors.
“Howard is always looking out for the locals,”said Corliss Bailey, a junior Economics major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.“It is so close to the community that it is impossible not to want to help. As a school, we defiantly impact the community in a positive way.”
Bailey noted that Howard students try to get involved in local politics and also participate in many community activities around the campus.
Chandler Wright, a sophomore Criminal Justice major at Hampton University in Hampton Roads, Va., is also concerned about the area near her campus.
“Once you drive a little further into Hampton you see the rougher parts,”Wright said. “But we take that as a challenge. Many students come from similar areas in other cities so we know how important it is to get engaged.”
According to a 2009 HBCUdigest.com, Hampton University ranked 13th on a Daily Beast list of the nation’s 25 most dangerous colleges with at least 4,000 students. The Daily Beast research included on-campus and near-campus crime.
Wright participates in the ROTC program and explained that the new recruits go into the community and serve the people with a purpose.
“The new shipmates go in and read to children in the low-income areas who don’t have the same resources that the high-income areas have, ” she said. “We always have something on campus that can either better the campus or the community.”
Calvin Swint, a graduating senior in Political Science at Morehouse College, is concerned about his institution’s relevance in the West End community that surrounds it.
“A lot of people that I run into that don’t go to the school don’t know about Morehouse,” Swint said. “But it’s very disturbing when it comes from an African-American person who doesn’t have a clue about what Morehouse or the AUC (Atlanta University Center) is.”
Swint believes that Morehouse should be more open to the community in order for the community to accept its students as regular people.
“We are not following up on what we are truly trying to do, which is to improve the world,”Swint said. “We’re putting on a mask and wearing the suit to look like we’re professional, but in reality we’re not actually part of the business of community improvement.”
Briana Harris is a mid-20s professional from eastern Georgia who lives near the campus.
“I really don’t know much about the school,”Harris said.” I do know that it is a historical black college as well as an all-male school but as far as having an impact beyond the campus, I don’t really see it.”
Swint agreed that the nearby community probably knows very little about the institution or its significance to the black community.
“They probably don’t even know who we are,”Swint said. “And if they do know, they probably see us as very distant and private.”
Morehouse College is known for notable graduates such as Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard H. Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson and Edwin Moses, but like many HBCUs, the community that surrounds the campus is in desperate need.
“Morehouse has a responsibility,” Swint said. “If we believe that carrying bags of sandwichesout once a semester is going to make an impact in the community we have a long way to go mentally as an institution.”