As a Black student, I often hear the Historically Black College/ Universities (HBCU) vs Predominantly White Institution (PWI) argument. Students from HBCUs claim their school is better because Black students who attend PWIs are not getting the “Black Experience”. I believe one does not need to attend a HBCU to have the Black Experience. I am not saying the experience Black students at HBCUs go through is the same as us Black students at PWIs, but the experience of Black students at HBCUs is not meant to be the same as Black students at PWIs.
At the University of Wisconsin Madison, Black students only make up 2% of the entire population which consists of about 40,000 undergraduate students. As a part of that 2%, I have experienced many things on this campus such as racism, microaggressions, exclusion and the feeling of not being wanted as a student here. This is probably not the case on a campus with a mostly Black population. Dealing with these added stressors makes it difficult to be Black on this campus, but these issues connect the Black students on campus and strengthen the bonds we have.
The Black community on this campus is unbreakable and it is through these relationships where I receive my “Black Experience” as a student at a PWI. It is unlike any other school, whether it be a HBCU or PWI. I lean and depend on my peers to get me through my time here at UW-Madison. This community is where I go when I need my hair done, a home cooked meal or simple advice on life. It is also this community who helps me get through each day on this campus as a Black woman. For example, when one of my white peers thought it was acceptable for him to touch my hair, it was one of my Black peers who came to my rescue by pushing his hand away and telling him why his actions were unacceptable. This moment connected me with this Black man and we are still friends to this day . Recently, I was in a group with 3 white students and one other Black student and I witnessed the white students try to belittle the Black student and his abilities by giving him a small easy portion of the project instead of letting him pick what he wanted to do like all the rest of us did. Tiny microaggressions such as this are very common when working in groups. I called the white students out on their racism . After the class, the Black guy in my group was so grateful and we are now friends. It is experiences such as these that I would not have at a HBCU that connects me to the Black students on this campus in a different way. Within the Black community, we make sure we know we all deserve to be here as much as any other student. We lean on each other when we feel like giving up. The Black community on this campus supports each other in a way I have never experienced before. When you face things such as racism as a college student, you have no choice but to build each other up and I am forever grateful for that.
My experience as a Black student on the campus of UW-Madison has helped shape me into the strong, confident and intelligent woman I am today and I wish everyone could experience this. The community we have here is unique, but it is this Black Experience here that allows Black students to achieve so much. This community supports their own through thick and thin because we are all we got. There’s a different type of connection you have when you depend on others to get you through your everyday life and that is why I love my Black Experience at a PWI.