I’m dating myself here, but I remember this time of year 16 years ago—I’d just arrived in Los Angeles, California, and set foot on my university’s campus. I was 18 years old, in a new city, and starting a brand-new life. I didn’t attend an HBCU but living in Los Angeles definitely came with a lot of diversity. There were 10x more Black people on my college campus than there were in my high school back in Austin, Texas. And I loved every bit of it.
When it comes to school and collegiate Black culture, there are so many things to appreciate: homecoming, sporting events, sororities and fraternities, on-campus performances, off-campus events… The excitement—especially for a new student—is unmatched.
I graduated from Cal State Northridge (CSUN—Go Matadors!), and every semester we had an event called “Matador Nights.” It was this giant party on campus at the start and end of each school year. We had a DJ, snack booths, and people would spend time hanging around the quad. My girlfriends and I would have the best time and then walk right back home to our dorm.
CSUN is my set, and I’ll forever rep it, but one of my best friends at the time attended an HBCU. She matriculated and graduated from Hampton University, and I went out to visit her one year for homecoming. Holy cow, what an experience!Block parties, club events, football games—I’d never experienced anything like it. (CSUN had gotten rid of their football program long before I got there; that’s one college experience I do wish I’d had at my alma mater.)
HBCUs show out for their homecomings—at least Hampton did. Even though I was just tagging along, I felt like I had a legit HBCU homecoming experience. I got a spot in the limo on the way to the official post-game after party; I got the lay of the land at the on-campus block party (where we walked a good 6-7 miles); I also got to meet some amazing people who loved their school and culture as much as I did.
My time at Hampton’s homecoming was well-spent. It left me with an appreciation for the culture that comes with being a person of color as well as the culture that often comes with higher education. I wish I’d had more of an understanding of this before I went to college though.
Neither of my parents graduated from college, nor did either of them talk to me about HBCUs versus PWIs (predominantly white institutions). It seemed the only talk of college that happened in my house was that I was going, and that it was non-negotiable. Which was fine by me and them—until they heard I was going to California for school. I don’t think my parents were expecting me to want to go so far away, but they never tried to hold me back. Well, other than my dad saying, “If you don’t get a dorm space, you can’t go.” Fortunately, the dorm room came through, and then there was no stopping me.
We’re not just going to college for the education (though, obviously, that’s the most important thing we take away). We’re also going to college for the experience. For the culture. I think there should be more exploration and emphasis on this side of the college experience. How celebratory is the university? What’s the on-campus quality of life? What do they do to foster support for the students who attend?
While I will never regret my time in California, if I could do it over again, I would have researched those things as well. Maybe my alma mater would’ve changed, and maybe it wouldn’t have—at least I would have no doubts.
As you soak in the nostalgia and the warm fuzzies associated with the back-to-school season, think about your own time at school—high school, college, any school really. Did your school do it for the culture? Did you build that love and appreciation for school and Black culture like I did? Let’s look back and smile about it. What a time, to be alive!
How about a roll call? Show your alma mater some love and shout them out in the comments!