The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


Black Student Experience at a PWI vs. a HBCU

The logos of Tennessee State University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Norfolk State University, and Rollins College, stacked on to of each other.

There are two different college experiences: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). HBCUs are rooted in embracing African American culture, and bringing communities together. HBCUs foster a strong sense of a family atmosphere, and aid in one’s journey in finding their cultural identity. PWIs can make it challenging to create an inclusive environment, because they are often larger schools. Both experiences have tremendous outcomes regarding education, but they are different, especially pertaining to African Americans.  

Primarily, HBCUs hold a sentimental weight on cultural efficiencies throughout the world. It’s a where one of color can feel as though they fit in when embracing the same culture around them. Historically, these schools were formed to provide higher education for African Americans during segregation and discrimination. Blacks were stripped of the ability to attend a PWI. HBCUs have played a crucial role in shaping lives and careers amongst many influential individuals. They continue to provide a supportive and nurturing environment for students of all ethnicities, while also taking recognition of African American’s heritage. Today, HBCUs continue on the legacy of bringing different communities together, while striving for higher education and a diverse society. There are many vast opportunities to look forward to when you are applying to any HBCUs.  

 On February 29, Dean of students Randall Bingham, counselor Janelle Lee, and English teacher Nikkia Camm, were interviewed on their college experiences at a PWI or HBCU. In the interviews, the staff members touched base on their experience at their HBCU or PWI and how it would be different if they did the opposite.


Randall Bingham- Dean of Students 


Q: What is your name?


A:Randall Bingham, I’m the Dean of Students here at Alexandria City High School.


Q:How many years have you been teaching, and how many of those were at Alexandria City High School?


A: This is my sixth year with Alexandria City Public Schools. I’ve spent the past five years at Minnie Howard as a P.E. teacher, and this is my first year as a Dean of Students.


Q: What college did you attend? What did you study there?


A: I went to Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I majored in agriculture and pre-veterinary medicine. 


Q: What was your experience at your HBCU?  


A: I had one of the best times of my life while attending Tennessee State University. I was a football player, I also am a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated. It was a time where I was able to establish a lot of great friendships, do a lot of networking, and build a path to success for the future. 


Q: Do you feel like your college experience would have been different if you would have gone to a PWI rather than an HBCU?


A: I most definitely think it would have been different. 


Q: How so, can you elaborate? 


A: On my campus, there are more people that look like me. Being an African American, to that extent, it’s a little more comforting because you don’t always feel like a smaller statistic, or not always outside of what the bigger population is. You may feel more comfortable in regards to talking about certain things and sharing certain ideals. 


Janelle Lee- High School Counselor


Q: What is your name? 


A: Janelle Lee


Q: How many years have you been teaching, and how many of those were at Alexandria City High School?


A: Twenty-five years total, twenty-three years in Alexandria City High School.


Q: What college did you attend? 


A: Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida. 


Q: Is this a HBCU or PWI?


A: It is a PWI.


Q: What did you study there?


A: Music Education.


Q: How would you describe your experience at this PWI?


A: Two things: The first being alienation. I was one out of 2 people that graduated with my class that were of color, and a sense of pride because there were only twenty on the whole campus. We became very good friends and are still friends to this day. It’s a combination of experiences. Now when it was time for my daughter to go off to college, she went to a HBCU, and had a great experience there. I feel like I kind of missed out on that experience because I went there, but I actually knew I was more black because they made it very apparent that I was at the PWI. 


Q: Do you feel like your experience would have been better at a HBCU?


A: Now, looking back, yeah. Growing up, my counselor did not explain the difference, and because I’m from Panama, my mother didn’t know anything about HBCUs or PWIs, so I just went to college, and I learned that difference when I got to college. 


Nikkia Camm- English teacher


Q: How many years have you been teaching, and how many of those were at Alexandria City High School?


A: I’ve been teaching for thirteen years. This is my third year at ACHS.


Q: What college did you go to and what did you study there?


A: I went to Norfolk State University for my undergrad in English, and I went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for my Master’s in secondary education. 


Q: Can you speak on your experience at the HBCU, Norfolk State?


A: Norfolk State University was an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. For me, the culture of the experience was awesome. The community was built with people who looked like me and had similar experiences and perspectives. The friends that I made there, I’m still friends with them now. 


Q: How would you compare the experiences at the PWI vs the HBCU?


A: PWIs are simply much bigger, and so there is no individual aspect there. At an HBCU, my advisors knew who I was, they knew what I wanted to do. There was a real personal connection there, and I can go back and talk to them if I want to. The cultural experience at a PWI can be more diverse, but again, there is no personal connection there. You are a number vs a person at a PWI. 


Q: Which one do you think is the superior environment to thrive in? 


A: They both have their merits, for me I wanted to grow more as a person academically, which was amazing, but at a HBCU I wanted to grow more as a person, get to know more about my culture, my background, and the people around me. At a PWI, it was purely academics. 


Q: Did you feel any type of alienation at the PWI?


A: Yeah, I definitely feel like I stood out. In some classrooms, I was the only one that looked like me, so that feels uncomfortable sometimes, but that is the world we live in. It was something I had to get used to. 


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