The Desk

August 12, 2010

Effects on Perception of Quality

There’s a thought that’s been plaguing me for several weeks now. Unfortunately, there’s not been a lot of time to research it in light of the other things that require completion before moving on to a new challenge. However, it is an issue that really does require unbiased study and then action.

The matter is whether those who graduate from historically black universities and colleges are perceived as having a better than average (general population, not ethnic population) education and therefore bring to the bargaining table above average skills and knowledge.

From my understanding of Post-Civil War America, freedmen (and women) had few educational resources available to them. Education was the key to actualizing the benefits of being free and leading a powerfully productive life. There is an argument that the first teachers were (and still are) marginally qualified compared to their White counterparts. But our nation has as one of its cornerstones the promise of free basic education for all. Those who founded the Black universities were essentially educated people who had struggled to excel in the environs of universities where their acceptance was tantamount to Shannon Faulkner’s at the Citadel. But many graduated with distinction.

Here we are in the 21st Century, more than 150 years later. The color of one’s skin still dictates one’s the first impact acceptance of one’s abilities and professionalism. Sometimes, actually many times, even with meaningful conversation and above average diction and vocabulary, the overall condescending treatment still cancels opportunities and relegates the potential human capital (and business solution) to the recesses of the arena and then exclusion.

Again, there’s been scant time to actually research some of the information that would form the answer to this question. It’s worth discussing from many perspectives: the recruiter, the job candidate and job seeker, management at all levels, educators and students, and ultimately our global neighbors. How is a person who has been educated (or seeks education) at an historically Black university or college perceived? Are they seen as the person of color who presents with some of the best qualities available? Are they still viewed as marginal? Does where they were educated even matter?


  1. Provocative comments. The puzzling observation for me is the exceptional Blacks who are in leadership positions who are accepted as the creme of the crop. No doubt some of that population went through the HSCU incubator while others attended private or public schools bearing excellent reputations. The bottom line, however, is that they and their excellence of whatever manner is accepted without undue testing; they were allowed to progress without the ever-mounting number of obstacles. (Then, again, maybe that’s the public perception and the truth is that the road was extremely rocky.)

    Washington and DuBois were always at loggerheads with one another. In fact, Washington seemed to be at loggerheads with most of the Negro leaders of his day. It makes me wonder whether he was an earlier version of the King/Malcolm X argument — the same resolution but from a different vantage point and phrased in such a way that one listener compared with other views could hear the message and be spurred to positive action.

    We need to be mindful that not everyone can sit in the office and design blueprints for the running of the organization. Experts are needed in all parts of our industries. Agri-business needs experts in agriculture and animal husbandry; forestry requires its experts. So there truly is a valid explanation for Washington’s argument. The problem is that not everyone looks at the forward reaching goals. Immediacy (or should I say exigency) will cause us to fall short of full development of what’s possible.


    Comment by Yvonne LaRose — August 12, 2010 @ 1:41 PM | Reply

  2. This is a very interesting post and you raise some great questions. I would guess that having a degree from an HBCU can help you or hurt you, depending on where you want to work. If you are looking to work in a field/organization/company that truly values diversity and has a lot of people of color working there, then it will most likely help you.

    But if you want to work in an environment that is “white-washed”, then an HBCU degree may hurt you. I say this because I have known many white folks to say “oh, they graduated from [insert name of HBCU here] – you know what THAT means.” What that often means to white people is that the graduate is presumed to be a militant black, who will make accusations of racism all the time, to the point of disrupting business.

    If you’re interested in the history of HBCUs there’s a great book called “A History of American Higher Education” by John Thelin, it does a great job of offering a historically accurate view of HBCUs, who created them, and for what purpose. In the late 1800s, black colleges were becoming more frequent and there was a big conflict between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington over the purpose of the black college. DuBois felt that black people should be able to get an education equal to the white education; that is, a well-rounded liberal arts education. Washington, on the other hand, believed that black colleges should be used to create skilled laborers rather than liberal arts thinkers. As you can imagine, Washington had more support from white donors than DuBois did.


    Comment by Progressive Scholar — August 12, 2010 @ 10:00 AM | Reply

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