December 10, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Choices: A Historically Black College, or a Predominantly White One?

Chandi Marsh Photo courtesy of Wick Thomas

Preparing for life after high school is difficult for many young people. Stressing over which college to pick, or whether it’s even financially possible to attend at all, can be enough to crack even the toughest teenager. Add the growing unrest of student activists all across the country, and it can be an even more confusing time.

From Ferguson to Columbia, Missouri has served as a focal point for this tension that has been bubbling to the surface for years. Missouri has historically served as a conflict zone for racial issues, and there is perhaps no group more aware of that or more affected by it than the state’s teenagers.

Most of the teens I worked with at the Kansas City Public Library (KCPL), where I was teen services librarian, were familiar with the kinds of problems being addressed on college campuses all across the country. They’ve grown up with these issues. Our history as a border state has led to a dynamic through which our local activism can influence the direction of the country.

Chandi Marsh, a former student at Notre Dame De Sion High School, member of KCPL’s Teen Leadership Group, and participant in too many extracurricular activities to list, had a lot to say about student activism.

“The racial issue has been a problem forever, but the media would glaze over it,” she says. “It’s being brought to the surface.” Marsh recounted an incident when she was leaving a theater in Kansas City and was pepper-sprayed by police officers. They assumed she was part of a group that had caused a commotion in the theater. “Things like that happen all the time,” she says.

Marsh attended a high school that was a predominantly white institution (PWI), and applied to 12 different colleges, both historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) as well as PWIs. She was accepted to nine.

Many of her classmates questioned her decision to apply to HBCUs, she says. “People at my school [told me that] HBCUs aren’t diverse, but [our high school] isn’t diverse either,” March says. “If you look at the percentages, even at the most diverse colleges, [African Americans] are still below 10 percent. I wouldn’t mind going to a PWI to help protest, but I would also like to live at peace while I’m studying for my future.”

“When I had issues at [my high] school, I was always afraid to say something, especially when I was the only black person in class,” she adds. “Going to a PWI, I felt like I had to prove myself. [Some people acted] like I was there because I got it handed it to me, and I was on scholarship, so that made things worse. I hate how people use affirmative action to think that minorities get handouts. We worked just as hard to get into the same college [as] you.”

The University of Missouri is one school that Marsh applied to. “After the protests [last year], I got my acceptance letter,” she says. “I looked at all of the other PWIs I applied to, and they all have race issues.”

Marsh applied to three HBCUs. She received a package offering full tuition from Clark Atlanta University. “I was [also] accepted to Howard, but they gave their decision the day of my graduation. That was too late,” she says.

“I really wanted to go to an HBCU after thinking it over,” Marsh says. “I wanted the small community. Clark Atlanta is a small school with 1,900 people. There, I’m not just a number. I can also take classes at Morehouse and Spellman.”

“They really tried to get me there—they really wanted me,” she adds. “[HBCUs] make it so everybody succeeds, and I really love that.” Regarding others’ claims that HBCUs aren’t diverse, she maintains, “It’s just different. HBCUs have black people from everywhere—not just African Americans.”


Library Journal Mover & Shaker Wick Thomas was teen services librarian at Kansas City Public Library.

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Comments

  1. Unfortunately, racism is alive and well. Having experienced both sides of the divide, I’d say she did well to go with her gut. All the best!

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