The difference between an HBCU and a PWI: I see myself
At Prairie View A&M, my college experience is now complete
My college experience has been very … different. I’ve attended three schools, had two changes to my major and garnered one hell of a learning experience.
My first stop after graduating from high school in 2017 was the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).
I want to note that as a senior in high school, I didn’t take my college search seriously. I was applying to colleges I knew I wouldn’t be accepted to. I’m talking the supersmart, probably need a 9.0 GPA and $200,000 in the bank to even fill out an application type of colleges.
It was all for fun, as the fantasy of moving across the country and being on my own clouded my judgment. What’s ironic is that I ended up enrolling in UTA because my immediate family members were moving to Dallas and I wanted to be close to them.
When I got to campus, my very first decision was to join the school newspaper, The Shorthorn, as a sportswriter. I’d written for my high school newspaper, but only as a feature and opinion writer, so this was a new avenue I was trying to explore.
I initially joined because I had a love for writing, I liked sports and I needed to get involved on campus. Little did I know I was setting the stage for my future career and college experience.
My time at The Shorthorn was fantastic. I got to experience the dynamic of an authentic newsroom and be part of a group whose focus was to make me a better writer and reporter. I covered men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, and I was comfortable. I felt like I’d found my tribe.
However, I didn’t have that same feeling whenever I left the newsroom and went to class or back to my dorm. Anytime I was away from the newspaper, I was suffering. I felt out of place and alone and decided that if this was how the “best four years of my life” was going to be, then I couldn’t wait till it was over.
Although UTA was pretty diverse as far as Texas goes, I still considered it a predominantly white institution (PWI). It was hard to find more than a handful of people who looked like me. It was hard to feel like I belonged there.
And honestly? I didn’t.
No matter how much I loved writing for The Shorthorn, I knew that if I was miserable anytime I wasn’t covering a game, then this wasn’t the right school for me. Not to mention, it was crazy expensive for an out-of-state student. A special thank you to my Uncle Sean for paying the rest of my tuition that semester.
Long story short, that semester ended up being the only one I spent on UTA’s campus.
I finished out the second half of my freshman year at Tarrant County College (TCC), a community college that was larger than some traditional college campuses. I took weekend classes that allowed me to get some of my core credits out of the way before I could make my next move. Nothing special happened on that campus, although it did teach me a lot about responsibility and discipline.
Imagine getting up for an 8 a.m. class … on a Saturday. Then having attendance responsible for 40% of your grade. It wasn’t fun, but I got through it.
At the start of my sophomore year, I had transferred to the one and only Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU).
My approach was the same. I joined the newspaper, I wrote about sports, covered volleyball and basketball, and I was learning a lot from my peers.
But something was different. Whenever I left the confines of the newspaper and made my way back into the general population, I didn’t feel the same glum way I’d felt before. Everywhere I looked, there was someone who looked like me and there were different aspects of my culture surrounding me.
The campus buzzed with laughter and conversation, music from band practice could be heard from two buildings over, most people were friendly, and for once I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong.
Prairie View’s campus felt warm. It felt inviting. It felt like where I was meant to be.
After spending time writing for the newspaper, I got the opportunity to transfer to the sports information department, where I became a student contributor, covering volleyball, basketball, bowling and softball. (That opportunity led to me taking my place as one of the Rhoden Fellows.)
Outside of journalism, I was finally having the college experience I was always told about. Parties, traveling to and from Houston, late-night food runs to Buc-ee’s and all-night study sessions on campus.
I’ve made mistakes. I changed my major from communications to business management at the urging of family members without thinking about what I really wanted. I’ve spent too much money on groceries and clothes when I needed it for books. I’ve had conflicts with roommates.
But I’ve also been in an environment that allowed me to learn from them. I’ve been able to work with an adviser who has supported me and helped me reclaim my future, starting with changing my major back. I’ve had a job that taught me the ins and outs of money management. I’ve had sit-downs with a roommate and hashed out differences.
I finally felt like a college student, and for me, that was the main difference between attending a PWI versus a historically Black college and university (HBCU).
At my previous PWI, my presence felt forced. I felt like if this was going to be my college experience, then I had to make the best of it. But at my HBCU, I was a natural. I felt free, open and seen.
Looking back, I don’t regret attending any of these schools. I wholeheartedly believe I was meant to be on each campus for a specific reason and that it led me to where I am now.
UTA taught me how to be a journalist. The Shorthorn taught me how to write, report, schedule and conduct interviews, make deadlines and was the beginning of a long road of writing ahead for me.
TCC taught me responsibility and time management. Because, I’ll be honest, getting up for those classes was nothing less than a struggle.
And lastly and possibly most importantly, PVAMU has taught me how to evolve as a person. Being on an HBCU campus has allowed me to feel the safety I needed to go out on my own and find my independence. Prairie View taught me how to deal with conflict, how to stand up for my needs and how to take control of my education.
Attending an HBCU allowed me to experience the family dynamic I hoped to find when I first started college. It’s opened the door to so many opportunities, and quite frankly, is the reason I’m able to write this piece now.
I’ll be forever grateful for my HBCU. While it wasn’t the first stop on my college journey, I’m incredibly relieved that it will be the last.