When U.S. News and World Report came out with their ranking of the top 20 HBCUs in the country, I became curious. I was wondering if my personal perception of the best schools matched the views of those who make these lists. I couldn’t afford to attend an HBCU out of high school (not to mention that my grades were terrible), and although I’d love to teach at an HBCU, it’s become difficult for African American professors to get jobs at campuses that have been taken over by people who aren’t black (thats another interesting story). In fact, many HBCUs don’t have any African American Professors in their business schools or Science departments – and it’s not because black scholars aren’t applying.
At any rate, the school at the top of the list was Spelman College, the university I love and hate, all at the same time. The funny thing about my love/hate relationship with Spelman is that my disdain is actually driven by my extreme admiration for the university. In fact, it may even be rooted in jealousy. I had a relative I wanted to send to Spelman, but the massive tuition bill was so high that she couldn’t attend. To make matters worse, the school doesn’t seem to care much about giving scholarships, but demand for admission is so high, they don’t have to give away anything.
I’ve always stated to others that Spelman College is not just the best school in the country for black women, it’s the best school in the country, PERIOD. Unlike Harvard, Yale and all the other schools with multi-billion dollar endowments, I am hard pressed to think of any Spelman grad I know who isn’t a doctor, lawyer, professor, or successful professional in some other field. Spelman College is nothing less than a factory of greatness, and the women who come out of this institution are typically second-to-none.
One of my daughters starts college next year. I made it clear to her why I think Spelman is such an amazing institution. In fact, I told her she should attend the university if she could. Now, the cost of tuition made us flinch, and anyone who’s read my book, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about College,” would know that I don’t believe you have to be $100,000 in debt in order to get a good education. But if there were ever a possible exception to that rule, it might be Spelman College.
One thing that must be mentioned about Spelman graduates and the institution’s commitment to creating high self esteem in the young women on their campus is that sometimes lessons on self-esteem can backfire into arrogance. I’ve worked with people who claim that although they admire the students produced by Spelman College, they would almost never hire them. T’hey claim that the extreme confidence instilled in Spelman grads can sometimes produce young women who aren’t willing to do the gritty work in order to get ahead in corporate America. Companies might get a CEO/Oprah Winfrey wannabe when they really want someone who is both confident and humble. While this doesn’t define every Spelman College graduate, it is certainly a word of caution for those who are tempted to empower themselves so much that they end up stepping on top of everyone else.
One incident that gave me tremendous respect for the women at Spelman College occurred in 2004, when the students came together to ban the rapper Nelly from giving a concert on their campus. They rightfully stood up against a video in which the rapper swiped a credit card through a woman’s behind. I thought that this movement would produce an even stronger backlash against misogyny in hip hop, but unfortunately, we’ve allowed the last six years to go by without doing a thing. But at least the women at Spelman gave us a glimmer of hope with their strong and meaningful statement.
Overall, I would say that the good certainly outweighs the bad when it comes to Spelman College. The school is a source of empowerment and a beacon of hope for the entire black community. They deserve to be #1 on this list, and they are also #1 in the country as far as I’m concerned. The university is simply amazing.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.