A Love Letter to My HBCU

By Willette Walker, Chief Human Capital Officer

A college or university is an institution of higher learning that provides educational enlightenment and social experiences to help prepare its students for life. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are different because they provide that and so much more. The cultural experiences, rich history, supportive learning environment, and unique traditions offered at HBCUs cannot be duplicated. In honor of my alma mater, Wilberforce University, I will share some of the experiences that helped to shape, teach, and develop me in ways that other institutions could not.

Cultural Pride and Identity
My HBCU, Wilberforce University, was founded in 1856 in Wilberforce, OH. It is the nation’s oldest private HBCU owned and operated by African Americans.

At Wilberforce University, I found my people. On campus, I found a home with 700 students who looked like me from all parts of the world and varying social-economic backgrounds who – just like me – dared to dream bigger than their current reality, and unapologetically pursued academic excellence. Being in an intellectual environment where Black people were the majority provided me with the safety, security, and vision of change that I needed to see to become the leader I am today. HBCUs celebrate and foster African American culture and heritage, and continually remind us that our history is our legacy. The sense of pride that comes from a connection to your history is invaluable. Four years of courses, cultural events, powerful speakers, and organizations all feeding my soul with ideas of Black excellence and achievement formed the foundation of who I am and who my people are. This foundation cannot be broken by the messages and imagery that I am bombarded with elsewhere.

Educational Opportunities
HBCUs have a rich history dating back to the 1800s. They were established to provide opportunities for higher education for Black students at a time when other institutions would not. While the landscape of Black students in higher education has changed, HBCUs remain a necessary force as we seek to improve social and economic mobility through education.

A few statistics from the United Negro College Fund that helps to make this point. While HBCUs make up only three percent (3%) of the country’s colleges and universities, they:

  • Enroll 10% of all Black students.
  • Produce almost 20% of Black graduates.
  • Produce 25% of Black graduates with STEM degrees.
Willette enjoying a basketball game with her husband, Eric Walker.

HBCUs continue to serve as centers of academic excellence and produce successful graduates. In fact, many notable figures in various fields are HBCU alumni (check out some notable alums here: https://www.experiencethelegacy.org/notable-hbcu-alumni). It is important to note that HBCUs are known for providing rigorous academic programs in a nurturing environment. It is my belief that this nurturing environment in which faculty, staff, and other students take a personal interest in your academic success immensely helped me and others at Wilberforce University.

Traditions Found at HBCUs
Homecoming, halftime shows, and Greek organizations are mainstays at many colleges and universities. However, at HBCUs these traditions are grounded in Black culture, history, and experiences in a way that brings intense vibrancy to campus. A few of the notable traditions include a unique Greek life filled with a focus on social service, a culture of giving back to the Black community, calls (words or sounds used to greet each other), stepping/strolling (signature dance moves), renowned homecoming celebrations that can last up to a week and include alumni, and celebrities, and, of course, the focus on Black History 365 days per year (366 days in a leap year).

I experienced all of this at Wilberforce, and it was incredible!

My four years at Wilberforce served as a trajectory-changing experience for me. After earning a BA in Political Science, I went on to obtain a JD from Duquesne University and a MAT from the University of Pittsburgh. My time at Wilberforce University also brought many important people into my life. I met my husband there and made life-long friends. My HBCU holds significant value in my life and in the nation’s education system.

I encourage you to learn more about HBCUs by visiting: https://sites.ed.gov/whhbcu/one-hundred-and-five-historically-black-colleges-and-universities/