What It’s Like To Attend An HBCU Versus A Predominantly White Institution As A Black Student

Illustrated by Jordan Moss
Go Off, Sis, the podcast from Refinery29’s Unbothered, is back for season three — and this time, the ear candy is devoted to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including the cookout-meets-fashion show-meets-family reunion that's known as homecoming. The topic of the first episode: examining the differences between attending an HBCU versus a predominately white institution (PWI). Sylvia Obell and Scottie Beam, the hosts from the Okay, Now Listen podcast, open up the episode by discussing what college life was like as an HBCU student.
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"You know that question, 'What are you, Black or a woman first?' I felt like [an HBCU] was going to be the only place where I could lead with my womanhood," Beam says. "I wanted to know what it looks like to be just a woman. If everybody in the student center is Black, I know I could say I'm a woman."
On the flip side, actress and activist Logan Browning went to a PWI, along with her onscreen character, Samantha White, in Netflix's Dear White People. Browning joins this episode to speak with Danielle Cadet, host and managing editor of Unbothered, and Chelsea Sanders, co-host and VP of communications at Refinery29, about whether her Vanderbilt University experience overlaps with Dear White People's fabled Winchester University.
“Going to a PWI is its own unique experience...you do encounter other excellent Black people, Black women there, and that was predominantly my experience," Browning says. "When you are at a PWI similar to [the school seen in Dear White People], you have to find your enclave. You have to find that core group of people who you see yourself in."
Cadet agrees, noting that code-switching at Northwestern University was exhausting and she abandoned it in favor of being her authentic self. “I had to learn how to take up space as just me," she says. "To just be like, I’m not going to adapt to this space. You’re going to adapt to me being in this space."
The issue of identity is also a hot topic on campus. And Browning shares another similarity with her onscreen counterpart — they’re both “biologically biracial” but identify as Black. For Browning, this classification is a non-issue. “I never saw myself as anything other than Black. I never really saw myself as light skin. I never saw myself as biracial,” Browning says. “It’s public that I’m adopted. I’m raised by two Black parents. There’s nothing about my life that doesn’t feel Black. It’s my lens.”
For more about about identity, including Browning's plan to include Black disabled people in her storytelling, listen to the full episode, below.
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