When students are asked why they chose Howard University or an HBCU, they often say they want a sense of community with students who look like them and have similar experiences. But does that guarantee that they will have the same experience? As someone who was raised by a 20-year-old single mom who was simultaneously putting herself through college, I had a hard time adjusting to Howard. There is a vast difference between the journey to Howard for first-generation college students and students whose families have historically attended the Mecca.
I was surprised to learn that Howard utilizes a legacy preference. A legacy preference, also known as legacy admissions, provides an advantage during the college admissions process to applicants with family members who previously attended or work at the higher education institution. Nearly 1 out of 4 students in the freshman class of 2019 were legacy students.
The privilege does not end there. We all know about the “Howard runaround,” from finding the financial aid office, learning about our advisors, and even enrolling in our classes. But does this experience apply to students with parents, uncles, aunts and siblings who have attended the university or even work in the administration? Absolutely not.
Legacy students had their own welcome reception to the Mecca where they met with administrators and received gifts. Why isn’t there a reception for first-generation college students at Howard? With alumni donations coming in the millions, the answer is right in front of us. Howard will invest in those with the financial standing to invest and give back.
Consequently, organizations such as HBCU Imprint and the African Student Association are necessary because they focus on providing resources to first-generation college students. If Howard invested more in first-generation students – proven trailblazers – who break barriers and start new traditions for their families, their matriculation at Howard would be easier.
Howard’s most notable alumni such as Toni Morrison and Chadwick Boseman were not legacy students. They often had to break generational barriers of their own. HU Bison should be chosen based on their own talent, not because of the talent of their relatives and the money they can contribute to the university. The legacy preference robs students of the opportunity to be accepted into Howard based on their merit. And once accepted, Howard further divides students by giving legacy students access to resources that the other students may need more.
I strongly urge all Bison to join me in telling Howard to eliminate the legacy preference and open up more seats to first-generation Black students. We need to ensure all Bison feel a part of the herd and work to support and help every student overcome the challenges they face on the path to success.
Mariah Cooley is a senior political science major at Howard University.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee