Tune in to the conversation around historically black colleges and universities and it’s easy to think the institutions are in a state of perpetual existential crisis. NPR’s Code Switch reporter Gene Demby’s deep dive into one West Virginia HBCU doesn’t do much to allay that perception, but he does offer a compelling, multilayered snapshot of an institution which has adapted to the changing times by enrolling more whites. So many that today, the student body of Bluefield State College, originally Bluefield Colored Institute when it was founded in 1895, is 90 percent white. It didn’t come about by accident. Structural forces—namely Brown v. Board of Education and the upheaval of the Civil Rights Movement, along with key decisions by white administrators—were instrumental in the shift.
Demby’s descriptions of life at Bluefield State College today are fascinating, if you’ve an attachment to the original mission and historical legacy of HBCUs. From: “The Whitest Historically Black College in America”:
Most of the current students we spoke to knew about the school’s status as a historically black college, but treated it like a bit of trivia. The players on the women’s basketball team, who were planting seeds for a homecoming event, joked casually about there not being step shows or marching bands or black fraternities and sororities.