Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Change Is in the Air: Joshua Packwood Is Not Alone

May 22nd, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

The announcement that Joshua Packwood, a white student, was honored as the valedictorian of Morehouse College, and HBCU, lit up the blogosphere, and Black on Campus was no exception. Read the Black on Campus blogpost on Packwood at THIS link.

Now, ABC news provides some much-needed context for Packwood’s success at Morehouse, a college that prides itself on its emphasis on individualized attention, leadership, and brotherhood.

This ABC news report reminds us that Packwood is not so much a pioneer as he is the most visible member of a growing movement…of white students to historically Black college campuses.

Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges

White Students Drawn to Small Class Sizes, Low Tuition; Schools Want Greater Diversity


May 19, 2008 —

Two things set Joshua Packwood apart from his 520 other classmates who graduated Sunday from Morehouse College — his GPA and his race.

Packwood is the first white valedictorian in the 141-year history of the Atlanta college and the only white member of his class.

While Packwood was one of a handful of nonblack students at Morehouse, he is part of a greater trend toward diversifying historically black schools.

Faced with increased competition from historically white schools, and in some cases legal requirements to diversify their student bodies, historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are actively recruiting white, Hispanic and Asian students.

Packwood, a 23-year-old economics major from Kansas City, Mo., earned a 4.0 grade point average and soon will begin work at Goldman Sachs, the New York-based investment firm.

He was offered a full ride to Columbia University but chose instead to attend Morehouse, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., and the only remaining all-male historically black college in the United States.

“I’ve been forced to see the world in a different perspective that I don’t think I could’ve gotten anywhere else,” he told The Associated Press. “None of the Ivies, no matter how large their enrollment is, no matter how many Nobel laureates they have on their faculty & none of them could’ve provided me with the perspective I have now.”

The National Center for Education Statistics tracked students, by race, attending historically black schools from 1976 to 2001 and recorded an increase in nonblack students attending the schools over that time.

In 1976, 9.5 percent of students were white. Twenty-five years later, in 2001, 12 percent of students enrolled at historically black institutions were white. Percentages of Hispanic students in that same time increased from 1.5 percent to 2.3 percent, and Asian/Pacific Islanders from 0.3 percent to 0.8 percent.

A total of about 285,000 students attend HBCUs every year.

The trend toward more diverse student bodies can be attributed to both black schools’ active recruitment of nonblack students and incentives such as scholarships, smaller class sizes and cheaper tuitions than white schools, said Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, an advocacy group for the country’s 118 HBCUs.

“There are institutions that are seeking out diverse students and there are diverse students actively seeking out these institutions,” Baskerville said.

“Some states have ordered historically black and historically white institutions to take affirmative steps towards more diversity. Others are taking steps towards diversity on their own,” she said. “Many nontraditional students are drawn to HBCUs because these institutions are known for being especially successful in graduating students in a more nurturing environment with smaller classes.”

She said many nonblack students are drawn to HBCUs for another reason — they are cheaper.

“Private historically black schools cost on average $10,000 less than their white counterparts,” Baskerville said.

About half of all historically black schools are public and states that require them to actively seek out more diverse students.

“There are several states that have required public HBCUs and other institutions to take further steps to obtain diversity. It is puzzling because these schools were established as bastions for students who had been locked out of other schools. They are bastions of equal opportunity. There are no recorded instances where nonblack students have been turned away from HBCUs because of their race. Nevertheless, they are required to take affirmative steps towards diversity,” she said.

Twenty years ago, there were no white students at Alcorn State University, a historically black school outside Lorman, Miss. Today, about 5 percent of students are not black, according to Napoleon Moses, vice president for academic affairs.

“We’re in southwest Mississippi and our state is almost equally divided between African-Americans and whites. We wanted to be a university for everyone, competing with all the other schools in the region. Our competition is not just from the HBCUs, but Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and Tulane,” Moses said.

Alcorn State was required to diversify, under state and federal desegregation laws, its student body. The school has recently been recruiting white students from overseas, particularly Russia. Moses said even with the legal pressure it is good business to recruit nonblack students.

Packwood was not recruited by Morehouse, but applied on his own, said Elise Durham, a college spokesperson. White students’ reasons for attending historically black schools reflect many of the reasons the schools say they should want to come.

Megan Wallace, 30, was one of several white students who last year attended Howard University Law School.

She transferred out of Howard, she said, only because she wanted to move from Washington, D.C., to New York City and called her time at Howard a “phenomenal experience.”

“My classmates accepted me for who I was, and I never felt it was really weird that I was there,” she said.

Wallace cited a strong sense of community, a commitment to social justice and more economical tuition as the reasons she believed black and nonblack students are drawn to HBCUs.

At Morehouse, students debated what it meant for the school that the best student in a class of 520 people was a white kid.

“There was a debate on campus,” said Carl Ringgold, 18, who recently finished his freshman year and served with Packwood in the student government association. “You heard both sides of the story. There are some people who don’t like that he is valedictorian for whatever reasons, but most of those reasons come down to him being white. Outside of that they don’t have many other reasons.”

Ringgold, an English and sociology major, added, “I think it’s better that we embrace it, rather that look down at it. He’s valedictorian for one reason: He earned it.”

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Posted in Academia, Black Colleges, Black Students, HBCUs, Higher Education, Joshua Packwood, race, white students

One Response

  1. Dulce

    I read this article the other day and was amazed and proud in someway. I revere HBCU’s and am so proud of the legacy of Morehouse College. I also love this blog and several of the blogs that you listed. Its nice to see other brothers and sisters who are conscious and caring. Keep up the good work.