White Student Explains Why She Picked An HBCU

by Yesha Callahan


Alyssa Paddock just finished her sophomore year at Howard University.

Unlike most students at Howard, Paddock isn’t black, which may come as a shocker to some, but she’s definitely not the first white person to attend Howard or any other HBCU.  In a recent op-ed post for The RootDC, Paddock explains her reason for picking Howard, which included a phone call from the Lacrosse coach  and an athletic scholarship opportunity.

Here’s a snippet from her piece on The RootDC:

So how did I get here?  When I started my college search in 2010 I looked for schools located in cities I thought would be exciting places to live. I also wanted schools with decent lacrosse teams and that would offer me scholarships to play for them. I narrowed my search to Marymount University in Alexandria, Va., Philadelphia University and American University here in DC.

My older sister Sally gave me advice that ultimately helped me decide my college future. She said I should apply to Columbia University and Howard University; Columbia as a “stretch school” that would likely be hard, or a stretch, for me to get into, and Howard as a way to step out of my comfort zone and experience being a minority.

She thought Howard would teach me important life lessons that I could never get at a predominantly white institution. Sally had spent time as the only non-Israeli and non-Jewish person in the Israeli Army during a year in Israel.

The following year she taught school at a Native American reservation in Northwestern Canada where she was the only white person on the reservation. (We are dual citizens of Canada. I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but raised in Connecticut.) I’d always trusted and valued her opinions but I’d never considered attending either of the schools she suggested. I was more focused on applying to schools that where interested in recruiting me to play lacrosse.

In December 2010 I decided on Marymount University and committed to its lacrosse team. In January 2011 I got an unexpected call from the coach of Howard’s lacrosse team. She had seen me play the previous spring at a statewide lacrosse tournament for Connecticut high school juniorsand invited me to come down for a visit. She was interested in recruiting me to play for Howard.

Despite my commitment to play for another school, everything seemed to be pointing me toward Howard. My sisters’ advice and my college goals appeared to coincide. Howard offered me an athletic scholarship that covered a portion of the tuition and an academic scholarship that paid for the rest.  It was more money than Marymount had offered me. Howard’s lacrosse team was also better than Marymount’s. It was a no brainer; I accepted the offer.

Friends and family immediately questioned my decision. Some dismissed it as a joke. Black friends and acquaintances laughed at the prospect of my attending a mostly all black college. White friends and acquaintances were confused about why I would want to go. My parents, who’d always encouraged me to make my own decisions, worried about the prospect of my being a member of a minority group for four years and questioned whether I could handle it.

I knew attending a black college would be different and I prepared myself for the challenge. It was not until I visited the campus on “accepted students’ day” that I learned what HBCU stood for. I had no idea that Howard was an officially designated “Historically Black College or University” and that there were 106 other HBCUs around the country.


I’ve never had an opinion on non-black students attending an HBCU.  I guess I can say the reason I attended a predominantly white institution (Rutgers University) is pretty much the same reason she chose Howard. It was practically a free ride, where as the countless HBCUs I applied to, offered next to nothing in scholarship money.  But what’s disheartening is this line of her piece, ” I had no idea that Howard was an officially designated “Historically Black College or University” and that there were 106 other HBCUs around the country.”  At least know the history of the institution before you take the money. I at least knew Rutgers was named after the American Revolutionary War hero Colonel Henry Rutgers.


What do you think of white students attending HBCUs?


  • Miakoda



    Being a Howard alum, I find this article to be great insight on the 30-40% non-black students attending Howard. Many of the non-black students get the privilege to learn more about black people – that we are not ALL the same. I’m glad her sister gave her some insight about not attending a PWI just because. I know many people may not care but I think this is huge for America to be open to minorities in all walks of life where ever they are. You go girl. =D

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    Oh, how cute. She actually comes from a family of unofficial anthropologists. Gimme a break.

  • http:tontonmichel.tumblr.com Tonton Michel

    Forget her whose the fox in orange?!

  • sixfoota

    I don’t have an issue with non-black folks going to HBCU’s but to me, in this instance, it seems like it was some sort of experiment. Yeah, she got a full-ride but IDK, there’s still some tinge of “let me put myself outta my comfort zone to see if I can brave it”.

    All of the non-black folks that I went to undergrad (a HBCU) with attended bc they were always comfortable around black folks – they grew up around us, went through adolescent milestones w us, their bff’s were black, etc. It wasn’t an experiment to them – it was just natural to wanna go where you knew you could be you with folks that you share commonalities.

    However, I did notice non-black folks at HBCU’s got hella scholarship monies – usually from the university itself. I’m a little inquisitive about that.

  • angela

    I think its great….I knew a couple white folks that when to my school (St. Aug). One of pledge zeta and etc. nothing wrong with it…money talks, maybe she will def. learn and get something out of it.

  • rhea

    I know there are going to be many skeptical (let’s face it: jaded) people who will roll their eyes at this article, but as a HBUC alumna, I am glad that she decided to try it out. What else in her experience as a super-white person (double citezenship in US and Canada?) would entice her to attend a school like Howard, as great as an institution as it is? There were a couple of white students and several Japanese exchange students at my school. They loved being at that school, and we treated them just like any other sistah. We neve sugar-coated anything because of their race. White or not, it takes some guts to be in the extreme minority in any environment. Good for her!

  • MiaM.

    I attended a HBCU, SSU to be exact. As a freshman I did not understand when I saw sprinkles of white kids around. My high school year I took an elective Religions class where one would understand diversity and how important it is to learn about other cultures. Until I opened my mind as a freshman and was able to recount how difficult it was to be the only black girl in a temple of Hindu’s or a mosque of Muslims, was I able to comfort those who were now in my shoes. It was good to see the whites get to know blacks and realize that not all of us were the same. It is all about how one uses their experience. I love that she stepped out of her comfort zone. It does sadden me that many of us go from black elementary schools, middle schools and high schools and THEN attend an HBCU, with no hope of diversity. I loved my experience at the “School by the Sea” and truly believe that, “I could get anywhere from here” SSU taught me everything I stand on today. However, to be an all around citizen you must diversify your life and I say great start on her part.

  • Marisa

    She acts like she just did the most profound thing EVER, you went to a black school, not walked on the moon.I saw this story on other boards and I’m going to say the same thing again, her sister’s story sounds more intriguing to me There have been quite a few white and non blacks at these HBCU’s, some liked some didn’t, just like many other college experiences, just ask the black kids who attend majority all white schools. Only difference with whites going to black schools is, that at least the whites didn’t have to need National Guard and Marshalls to escort them.Lets face it Alyssa picked the school offering her the affordable option for her not to even know the history of that school or that their are HBCU’s points out how clueless not just she is but, many whites and other non blacks truly know about black people.

    Yeah plenty know about Pres. Obama, Beyoncé, Oprah, or Michael Jordan but, get these folks to describe blacks outside of a President and folks who entertain them and boy can they draw some blanks, oh wait I forgot they watched those CNN Blacks are messed up in America specials. Whites come to these schools as some see I’m minority just like yall because there aren’t many whites here, then graduate and its back to their majority status. When Alyssa wrote this piece I’m sure she felt she would be viewed as oh so enlightened and all that After School Special crap but, sorry I’m just not moved. Also I graduated from St Johns University which is mostly a mixed school some of everybody goes there lol.

  • Somebody

    I don’t know why people have to be so negative about this. There are minority scholarships in other schools so if “White” is a minority in an HBCU, what’s the problem with a scholarship? Secondly, if attending a Black school was an experiment, what’s the big deal? A lot of people go to school abroad as an “experiment”.Also, as Black people, we get irritated that others are ignorant of our culture. In her four years, she’s bound to learn something about Black culture and hopefully have a better appreciation of it. I would think that’s a not a bad thing. Learning about others by mixing with them is not to be frowned upon, and if she doesn’t, it’s her loss (not ours). Good luck to her in her endeavours!

  • Nic

    Is it just me or does old girl not look quite so white? She might want to get her DNA tested. If I saw that picture without this article I wouldn’t think “what’s up with the white girl”…

  • Anthony

    I hope she has a good time a Howard socially and on the lacrosse team. Most importantly, I hope she finds when she graduates that Howard has allowed her to earn a very competitive degree!

  • Nic

    I’m quite sure she will have a good time socially and will have more dates than she can handle.

  • RenJennM

    I’m cool with it. I went to the second most diverse high school in New Jersey, and there were a few white kids I knew who had mostly Black friends. So, it wouldn’t have surprised me if they felt more comfortable attending an HBCU.

  • ac

    well your assumption is that being in all black schools from pre-k to highschool means you’re around the same types of black people. i’d hope that all of your ‘travels’ and experiences would reveal that diversity doesn’t just mean diversity of skin colors.

    i went to ‘all black schools’ from pre-k to high school and chose a HBCU women’s college for my BA and it was there that i was surrounded by the most diverse group of people i’ve ever encountered in my life and most of them were black. mind you i’m’ a child of nigerian immigrants, i’ve studied abroad, and traveled quite a bit, so that says a lot. i now work in an office where everyone acts/dresses/thinks/eats the same things and guess what, so i experienced more diversity in my small black college than i do now at my FT job. Maybe you need to expand your definition of diversity….

    does it sadden you that there are white people who go to schools where everyone looks exactly like them from pre-k until college, with no hope of diversity?? make those folks your pet projects.

    do better

  • noodle

    the wg is cute to…

  • justanotheropinion

    @sixfoota – colleges will find money to give whomever they are trying to court. If Howard is trying to get more whites or non-blacks or athletes for specific sports, they will throw money at them to get them in the door. Same MO as all colleges – if you have what they want, they will offer you money.

  • Hop

    In order for HBCUs to survive they are going to have to reach out to non blacks. I went to a FAMU graduation and it was cool seeing a number of whites graduating too.

    Also, I didn’t know the history of my school either… Lol

  • Mademoiselle

    Wouldn’t it have been better if she chose Howard for the academics it offers? It’s a university like any other. I’m sure the school’s aim is primarily to provide education, not access to black people. Being a competitive school means nothing if you’re only competitive in relation to other HBCUs. I would think the goal of HBCUs is that one day people will put HBCUs on their short list for something other than the thousands of black faces walking around, but I could be wrong.

    On another note, “At least know the history of the institution before you take the money.” … I’d wager to say a majority of students don’t know the history of the institution they decide to attend regardless of HBCU status, so this is an unfair expectation to place on the girl.

  • Camryn

    On another note, “At least know the history of the institution before you take the money.” … I’d wager to say a majority of students don’t know the history of the institution they decide to attend regardless of HBCU status, so this is an unfair expectation to place on the girl.

    Such a fucking dumb comment…Everyone should know the history of the school they attend, so I agree with the writer….

    For this chick to NOT know the history of one of the largest HBCUs it’s a shame.

  • Anthony

    I think one can also say that the white student clearly assumed that she was going to get a good education at Howard or she would not have applied. She seems intelligent and thoughtful in her writing, so I can’t imagine her not caring about the quality of education she is receiving.

  • stef

    Good for her, atleast she is supporting a HBCU, our people are abandoning them at a alarming rate for PWU who still treat you like outcasts

  • texaschainsawlovin’

    In my brain, I feel that most white people (sans my boyfriend) do not know any HBCU. It’s not that they don’t want to. They are just never told where and what they are in their circles. So, I’m not really too surprised. I hope that she uses her time wisely and develops more as a person while attending. After reading here little essay, Lord knows she needs a Yoda. She is an uber padawan. She is getting a “free ride” which is great especially in this economy. However that doesn’t mean that this is an experiment, this is a school of great history, treat it as such.

  • Apple

    I wanted to go to hbcu and I really tried but at 30k a year and them not wanting to give reasonable financial aid (even though my parents were unemployed after a natural disaster ) I didn’t go. I went to the white school instead for free.

  • Marisa

    Its sad that these HBCU’s are closing and in financial trouble, I am positive they produced many successful alumni. PWI’s get major alumni dollars.

  • Ashley.

    What does knowing the history of an institution have to do with attending the institution. I think it’s a shame she didn’t know that about Howard and other HBCUs, but go to many college campuses today and many students can’t tell you much beyond recent history of it. If you wanna feel some kinda way, feel some kinda way. You don’t have to go on a search and rescue for a reason girl.

  • Camryn

    Hbcu…the h stands for historically…is it to much to ask of a person to know its history?

    It’s laughable how ppl are running to defend this little Becky & her free ride.

  • Brad

    It is really sad to hear about people wanting to go to HBCU’s and not being able to afford it finically. I count my blessings that we live in Florida where the big HBCU is a state school and affordable. So I could send my daughter there with out breaking the bank.

    On the note of whites attending HBCU’s it is really common at FAMU in the Allied health, Pharmacy majors and of course on some of the sports like soft ball.

  • geri

    yeah i dont understand why its such a big deal she didnt know the history of howard. i didnt know the history either and i’m black. i don’t think its something to pick on her about because i bet most students dont know a thing unless they are really going for some name brand schools. go to a school because you like the environment, the financial situation looks good, and you think you’ll have a good educational experience.

  • http://gravatar.com/latinlover Pseudonym

    From the testimonials of my friends who have attended HBCU’s, they don’t treat students any better. Many of their administrative staffs seem AWFUL!!!!! and don’t let me go there with my natural-haired black friend who was told by a preceptor at Howard Medical College that if she was serious about her career, she was gonna have to go get a wig of straight hair. So, not buying the “HBCU is so much more pro-black” hype.

  • W

    OMG THANK YOU!!! I have read through most of the comments and this is the best one. I agree with you 100%

  • W

    Everyone is mad because she did not know the history???? I know people at PWI’s (including myself) who know more about HBCU history than the students attending such HBCU’s (FAMU,Bethune,Howard etc…).

    Cry a river.. build a bridge and get over it.

    Also.. did everyone have this same outrage when the white guy at Morehouse graduated at the top of his class a couple years ago?

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  • dippedingodiva

    As a college student, I applied to both HBCUs and PWI’s; however, the HBCU’s did not offer me a generous financial aid packet that would benefit me, unlike the current PWI I am currently attending. If I did not need financial aid, then no doubt I would have attended a HBCU, but the way me and my momma pockets are set up, I had to do attend a school that was to my advantage financially. (this is a reply to Stef btw)

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