Today, I read the name “Howard University” on a list, and since I had no idea where it was, I looked it up. I was amazed from their website because, well, most people on the photos there are black!

Since I assume it does not reflect the ethnicity of the local environment (Washington DC), I went to search for an explanation. Wikipedia says it's a “historically black university”:

established before 1964 with the intention of serving the black community

So, I understand that segregation-era black universities might have a predominantly African American faculty and student body after the end of segregation, but it's now almost 50 years ago. So, what factors explain how an institution such as Howard University didn't get more ethnically/racially diverse, while multiculturalism seems an important part of academic way of life?

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    I'm confused about what you mean by "I assume it does not reflect the ethnicity of the local environment." Washington DC is majority black (now 50%, but it used to be as high as 70%), and Howard's neighborhood was overwhelmingly black until quite recently. Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 20:36
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    Hampton University (in Hampton Virginia) is another historically black school that is still largely black. I've spent some time there and found it to be a very congenial environment despite not being black myself, so I have no idea why this is the pattern but it is not unusual. Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 23:29
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    See community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/… for some discussion of white students at historically black universities. Public universities are often under pressure to desegregate, but private universities are generally not. Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 4:36

3 Answers 3


I just don't think HBCUs are all that unusual in terms of having a student body that's not a random demographic sample of the United States. Brandeis has a higher than average percentage of Jewish students, Cardiff has a higher than average percentage of Welsh students, and Duke has a higher percentage of southern students. Students pick schools in part by cultural and social match, and ethnicity plays a role there. Furthermore, people go to schools that their family members and friends went to, and a black kid is more likely to have grown up hearing "keep up the good work and you'll get into Howard/Morehouse/Spelman" from their alumni parents and teachers while a white kid's role models are less likely to be Howard alums. Finally, demographic shifts happen slowly: Sarah Lawrence has been coed since 1968 and it's still 3/4s female.

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    I totally agree. I lived in DC area over 20 years and have many American African friends who are Howard graduates. To them, why not choose that school would be an issue.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 5:38

The excellent book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?", by Beverly Daniel Tatum, offers an explanation of -- well, the question posed by the title of the book, but as a general phenomenon, for example why HBCU's continue to appeal to African-Americans.

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    Would you care to summarize the author's position?
    – F'x
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 7:30
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    It's a little bit hard to, and I feel I'm not getting it exactly right. That said, the thesis of the book is essentially that African-Americans are treated poorly by society, and find it easier to relate to people who have experienced the same, and sometimes prefer a racially homogeneous environment.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 0:23
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    @Anonymous - It might be easier to think about it in relation to these questions: Why do girls often start to lose confidence in themselves as students of math and science around the beginning of middle school? Why is this phenomenon lessened when girls study in a gender-homogeneous environment? I hope this makes it easier to understand. Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 21:27
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    It would also be worth mentioning that we as a species tend to self-segregate on our own even without outside influence, so there is a possibility that the choice of colleges is in part influenced by ones subconscious mind. Likely based on input such as history, the area one lives in, etc. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 6:48

As a Black graduate of Howard University, I think this best sums the factors and answers your question. The United States of America, has embedded within its socio-economic and political systems, systemic racism. The reasons for Howard University, in fact all HBCUs existence still remains. Until the systemic racism is directed to all OR until it is significantly removed, there is no reason for any HBCU to become a PWI (predominately white institution).

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    Exactly. Manifestly, people who do not "see" the systemic racism are mystified... Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 21:55
  • Welcome on the Academia SE! The question was the "how", not the "why". Furthermore, the question did not ask about becoming predominantly white, instead it asked about becoming more diverse (having black & white guys, too).
    – peterh
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 7:41
  • @peterh-ReinstateMonica Did I mis-read the question? Or you did? The first word of the question title is "Why", not "How".
    – Nobody
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 7:58
  • @scaaahu The essence of the question is the "how".
    – peterh
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 8:04

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