HBCUs have a lot to offer black students
Deijenee Nelson could have taken her talents to several colleges around the nation, but she was only considering Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and she will be attending Fisk University. Photos by Jason Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Dorsey High School softball player Deijenee Nelson, who was featured as the Sentinel’s Student Athlete of the Week two weeks ago, had a number of colleges recruiting her. She has a 4.2 grade point average, and she is one of the best softball players in the area.
As college recruiters from around the country had Nelson on their radar, she only had a select few on hers. That would be Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). When it was time for her to sign her name on the dotted line, it came down to two schools, and Fisk University was her ultimate chose over Howard University.
“My visit out there was so wonderful that I had to go back,” Nelson said. “Other places did not welcome me as much. I was in a big group, but when I went to Fisk, it was just me and another girl. We got to see the campus, the dorms, it was really exciting.”
Fisk gave Nelson more attention, and they made her feel more wanted, which is one reason why many black student athletes, and students in general, are selecting HBCUs over mixed race colleges.
HBCUs typically have a smaller student body, which is more attractive to black students who do not want to get lost in the shuffle on campuses with over 20,000 students. Fisk’s girls softball coach Jay Smith feels that the smaller campuses suit black students more.
“I think that you’re closely knit together,” Smith said. “They kind of look out for each other. They are more brothers and sisters on campus, and I think that from the athletic department to the academic standards from the professors, they look out for the kids. It is a small ratio of the classes, and the concept of going to Fisk is to get an education. We’re happy to have Deijenee in our family.”
Athletically, HBCUs are not viewed as being on par with some of the biggest programs in the nation, but seeing that most athletes do not make it to the professional level, the four years of college is really to set up the next 40 years of life.
“When you go to a HBCU, it helps grooms you into the adulthood,” Smith said. “Sometimes it is not all about the brand and the swoosh and the strips, it is about what you are trying to get, and what is going to further you along in life to get a better job.”
For a parent, HBCUs offer a great environment for their children. An environment that they feel that their children will get the attention that they need.
“I just think that the black college offers the students more of a feeling of being somebody,” Brea Southern, Nelson’s mother, said. “At a white college you’re more of a number. They don’t care if you come or go. At black colleges they have more people who are concerned about the kids, who care about their futures and their success. I think that the smaller family of students and teachers is a better fit for her than a university of 20,000 kids, where the professors never see you, so they don’t know if they’re in or out of class.”
One of the many proponents of HBCUs is Stephen Bernstein, who is a graduate of Fisk. Through his program Climbing the Ladder, he has helped HBCUs recruit black student athletes from Los Angeles. Fisk is the university that he promotes the most, but he has helped student athletes obtain scholarships at other HBCUs.
Bernstein, who played baseball at North Hollywood High School and at Fisk, believes that there is a great value in attending a HBCU.
“A lot of people seem to be more comfortable with their peers,” Bernstein said. “They do not face any type of racism, and a lot of people tend to get along with their own people.”
Bernstein pointed out that Fisk and other HBCUs have produced many doctors, lawyers, and professionals from just about every industry.
One of Bernstein’s classmates at Fisk was Reginald Sample, who is the Principal at Dorsey High School, and he was extremely proud to see one of Dorsey’s best student athletes chose his alma mater. He not only sees this as being big for Nelson, but also for HBCUs to get a student athlete with her talents.
“I think that it is important for the college itself,” Sample said. “At times we assume that Historically Black Colleges do not have high caliber students or athletic programs. Sometimes it is great to have individuals contribute to the foundations that many of us came from.”
Because there are not any HBCUs in the West, many students are unaware of the benefits of attending a black college. But for Sample it was life changing.
“Fisk was one of the greatest experiences that I ever had,” Sample said. “Growing up in Los Angeles, I was always prone to see a lot of negativity with African Americans. So to be around so many like minded African Americans at Fisk, it was just eye opening. It was something that made me who I am today. It pushed me. Today I have friends who have accomplished things, from attorneys, to doctors, to professional athletes. So it has really been good to see positive role models with the same goals to improve their communities.
“Being around predominantly African American students, it has been a sense of pride to bring individuals together. There are thousands of people who have accomplished great things. Often time you see the negative press and negative statistics. To me, to see so many individuals from around the country, and around the world, to come together to do something positive, it was wonderful. It was the best experience that I ever had. There were a lot of positive African Americans who influenced me to do great.”
Along with the academics, graduates from HBCUs always talk about the social scene, which is drastically different from mixed race universities.
“The social scene is very good,” Smith said. “Our students do not have any problems adjusting, or having fun outside of the books. From what I’m hearing, Deijenee had a ball when she came out to visit.”