“Not the Token Black Girl or Token Black Boy” Part 1

This is a traditional news story written by yours truly.

For some high school seniors, one of the most memorable moments in their lives is not going to prom but signing their college acceptance letter. But when it comes down to choosing a college, the biggest debate in some households is whether to go to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) or a predominately white institution (PWI).

In the eyes of some student-athletes, they knew they weren’t going to play a professional sport after college so the HBCU experience was a good fit.

Chris August, a senior Chemistry major, said that  Xavier University of Louisiana has helped him prepare for life after college. His next step is pharmacy school.

August began running track in middle school and during his high school years, he thought a PWI was his best choice.

“That all changed when there was an incident at my school, where somebody put a Mexican flag up and someone tore it down thinking it was higher than the American flag,” he said.“It started a big race thing at my school… it woke me up that I couldn’t go to a PWI.”

Xavier was a place where he could excel academically and athletically.

“It feels like I’m at home,” August said. “When I was at my predominantly white high school in Texas, it felt weird that I was out of place… like I was a black sheep. There’s people all around me that look like me, talk like me, act like me and all have the same ideas as me.”

Chris August/ Photographer: Allana Barefield

Another student-athlete at Xavier Shalani Taylor, a junior Public Health Science major, feels the same way as August.

Taylor , a native Reno, Nevada, has been dancing since she was a child. During her freshmen year, Taylor made Xavier’s dance team.

She chose Xavier because of being the only Catholic HBCU, one of leading schools in academics and its location. But more importantly, a place, a school, an environment where she accepted herself.

“Funny story is that at first I wanted to go to a PWI,” Taylor said. ” I’m from a predominantly white area, Xavier was on the list but not my top school.”

After deciding on Xavier, Taylor didn’t receive any negative feedback because some people thought she needed this experience.

Growing up Taylor, always thought of herself as “the token black girl” in her dance studio and in her classes.

“When I got here, I realized everybody at this school was class valedictorian, everybody was the token black girl or token black guy,” she said. “It finally made me not Shalani the black girl, but Shalani the hard worker, Shalani the dancer.”

Shalani Taylor/Photographer: Allana Barefield

HBCUs have always had a hands-on approach to learning. Brian Turner, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Xavier, said its always their way to prepare the next generation.

“The implied benefit of attending an HBCU is the intentional work around identity for students of color,” he said.

Often times, students who attend HBCUs will realize that black excellence is the norm. There have been many studies that black students learn better from black teachers.

“It doesn’t say people who are white are not going to be able to educate students of color,” Turner said. ” It says that the person who’s not black that wants to educate black kids- they’ll have to do some work around understanding the cultural issues that might come up.”

Turner added at an HBCU everyone needs to be committed to the mission to uplift students who have been traditionally disenfranchise.

“And that has to be the same for black professors, if you don’t do the work to educate the people you’re trying to educate, you’re not going to do well.”

Turner attended Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and played football. Most of the people that helped him along the way were white, he said.

“Taught you how to learn, taught you how to think critically, analytically and independently,” he said.

There are other studies that found HBCUs black graduates are better prepared for the real world than black graduates from PWIs.

“When you put students of color in places where they are expected to do well they will do well… when you have institutions like Xavier, Southern, Howard and Morehouse,” Turner said.“The identity piece is crucial because you feel comfortable doing what you do as who you are.”


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