For nearly 200 years, Historically Black Colleges and Universities—affectionally known as “HBCUs”—have led the way to ensure Black students are able to receive a quality college education. This was initiated at a time when Black people were prohibited from attending many colleges and universities in the United States. With a mission to provide equitable learning opportunities for Black students, HBCUs continue to be a primary means of providing educational training to all students, regardless of race. In fact, while HBCUs make up just 3% of America’s colleges and universities, they produce almost 25% of Black graduates in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (source UNCF). This includes communication sciences and disorders (CSD).
There’s a sense of cultural security and belonging for Black students that’s uniquely found at HBCUs. And they’re known for having some of the most beautiful college campuses in the nation, as well as dynamic (and positively unique) student life:
- Student organizations resemble more of a family environment
- Homecoming is truly a family reunion, crossing several generations of alumni
- Students ‘dress for success’ on a daily basis as they go to and from classes
- The marching band is the highlight of football games
- The ‘yard’ (quad or central area of campus) is the best place to be on a Friday afternoon!
In addition to their long-standing histories of academic excellence with nurturing and supportive faculty on beautiful campuses, HBCUs are known for producing many well-known Black leaders:
- educators and community activists like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;
- elected state and federal officials like Vice-President Kamala Harris and Congressman John Lewis;
- scientists and engineers like Lonnie Johnson and Katherine Johnson; and
- popular figures like Langston Hughes, Spike Lee, Oprah Winfrey, Chadwick Boseman, and Megan Thee Stallion.
Why I Chose an HBCU
Like these famous Black leaders, attending an HBCU had a huge impact on my life. Growing up, I attended schools that were predominantly white. For many Black students, like me, attending an HBCU is the first time experiencing being the majority population in a classroom, having Black instructors, or being immersed in Black culture. This was something I was searching for.
As an undergraduate, Hampton University was the perfect choice for me. I had a strong desire to attend a university that promoted core values such as respect, excellence, compassion, and diversity. I was drawn to the small class size, the abundance of CSD clinical opportunities, and the varied experience of the faculty. Most importantly, I had a personal connection—several family members graduated from the university too.
Not to mention Hampton’s vibrant campus life! I vividly remember visiting campus for the first time . . . the beautiful waterfront views were spectacular, the melodic sounds of Hampton’s renowned marching band was heard in the distance, and the most creative fashions suitable for a New York runway walked past me. In addition, the warmth and enthusiasm that the student leaders extended was amazing and gave me a sense of family and belonging.
A Trailblazer in CSD
To top it off, Hampton was one of the first CSD degree-granting programs at an HBCU. The program was founded by Dr. Robert Martin Screen, CCC-SLP, in 1954, where he led a program celebrated for successfully training more Black speech-language pathologists than any other university in the country. He received multiple awards, including the ASHA Fellow and ASHA Honors, and was a pioneer in the field for his work with culturally diverse communities. It was clear that Hampton was not only an amazing university to attend, but also had a ground-breaking CSD department for Black students seeking to become audiologists and speech-language pathologists—like me.
Building My CSD Network
It was at Hampton where I first learned how to develop my CSD network. I graduated with a tightly knit class of nine Black women. We attended classes together, had late night study sessions, and carpooled to our clinical assignments. The bond that we developed at our HBCU was undeniable. We keep in touch to this day, and I love that I’m able to reach out to them to brainstorm ideas, reunite at the annual ASHA Convention, and support their professional career goals and businesses.
The disparities within racial/minority clients with special needs continue to increase, necessitating an increased number of minority CSD professionals and others equipped to provide culturally responsive service delivery. Thus, CSD programs at HBCUs are more important than ever because they continue to be a primary source of training for future CSD professionals. These programs are at the forefront of creating and providing culturally responsive curriculum and clinical experiences, thereby developing future culturally-responsive audiologists and speech-language pathologists, regardless of their racial and/or ethnic background.
HBCUs are much more than academics, it’s the transformative experience that you gain from the lifelong friendships, being surrounded by rich cultural diversity and the warmth and excitement that you feel when meeting fellow students and alumni. It’s an environment where students can flourish and feel connected to their community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the 12 HBCUs that offer CSD programs, especially if you’re applying to graduate programs soon, please visit their websites and talk to current students:
- Alabama A&M University (Normal, AL)
- Hampton University (Hampton, VA)
- Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
- Jackson State University (Jackson, MS)
- North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro, NC)
- North Carolina Central University (Durham, NC)
- Shaw University (Raleigh, NC)
- South Carolina State University (Orangeburg, SC)
- Southern University and A&M College (Baton Rouge, LA)
- Tennessee State University (Nashville, TN)
- University of the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)
- Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans, LA)
Attending an HBCU was incredibly impactful to my development as an SLP. I encourage you to dive deeper into the history of HBCUs, and maybe even apply to one yourself!