Students find community at HBCUs and HWCs

Ava Lipsky and Jorge Orvananos

“I have always been fascinated exploring women’s voices in history,” Sareena Parikh (12) said. Parikh chose to attend Barnard, a women’s college, because she felt that in an environment with many people of diverse interests and identity she would be able to better understand the importance of women.

Similarly, Sunshine Quinones (12) chose to apply to Barnard because she felt that a women’s college was the right environment for her. “Reading about the experience at Barnard made me realize that going to a women’s college would be a place I could really thrive at,” she said.

Quinones prefers STEM-related subjects and has noticed that women’s voices are not always heard in male-dominated STEM fields, she said. Even though many colleges ensure that women feel represented within the classroom and create spaces where women can comfortably share their experiences with each other, she believes that this will occur more naturally at Barnard. “It won’t be something that’s encouraged, it’ll just be the norm,” she said.

Quinones felt confident during the application process that she wanted to apply to a women’s college, she said. “I realized during the college process that going to a school where women lead the conversations and empower each other is something that I value and would want to experience before I go down a likely male-dominated career path.”

However, unlike Quinones, Parikh was hesitant about applying to a women’s college, as it was not an option she considered initially, she said. “I felt conflicted because I had never previously thought of applying to an all-girls school before my college counselor suggested it.”

After Parikh researched women’s colleges, she was convinced that they would be a good fit for her as she felt that a women’s college would help her grow academically and emotionally, she said.

Along with Parikh and Quinones, Stella Shah (12) will be attending a women’s college. Shah chose to attend Scripps College because she was interested in applying to a college where she would be pushed to be a better person and could surround herself with people who wanted to become better people as well, she said. “I realized pretty early in my college process that quite a few historically women’s colleges have cultures of self improvement and earnestness that resonated with me.”

Scripps College is a part of the Claremont Colleges — a group of seven schools where students can take classes in any of the colleges, Shah said. These shared classes will include men, but she is also able to take all-female classes if she chooses to. “I have the ability to, for example, take a math class with all women, but simultaneously, I get to use that confidence and skill set to practice in a co-ed environment,” she said.

Shah was attracted to the idea of attending a women’s college prior to the application process, she said. Specifically, she was interested in the population at women’s colleges, as these schools often have strong LGBTQ+ communities and women from more religious backgrounds, she said. This population will be similar to her current friend group at the school. “I could see all of my closest friends fitting into the schools I applied to,” she said. “Only a few of my close friends did wind up applying to women’s colleges, but I think it was important to me that there would be people not dissimilar to them at my potential [colleges].”

Apart from the women’s colleges, other seniors chose to apply to Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs). Jaiden Wilson (12) chose to apply to Xavier University, a historically Black university, because she thought she would feel more comfortable in that environment, she said. “I applied to an HBCU because I wanted to be around people that looked like me, especially after being at a predominantly white institution [like the school] for the last 13 years.”

Wilson also felt that an HBCU would focus more on her needs as a Black student and would prepare her best for her future after college, she said. She was confident that she wanted to apply to a HBCU from the beginning of the application process, she said. “I was not conflicted about applying to [HBCUs] because I knew where I wanted to go.”

Wilson is most excited to be able to attend college away from home, she said, as it will give her the experience of not being close to her friends and family. She is also enthusiastic about meeting new people, especially at an HBCU, she said.

HBCUs have been shown to support and produce graduates who are far better equipped for their post-college experience — precisely what Wilson hopes to find, she said. 

Earlier this year, Shah and her friend Jhanae Ottey made a presentation on HBCUs and found that 50 percent of Black lawyers, 50 percent of Black public school teachers, 12.3 percent of Black CEOs, 80 percent of Black judges, and 40 percent of Black engineers are trained at HBCUs, Shah said.

Shah strongly supports HBCUs and women’s colleges because of the remarkable assistance they offer Black and female students, respectively, she said. “I’m a big believer in any college that offers that kind of support.”

Specifically, Shah believes that HBCUs and women’s colleges are beneficial to giving their students, who typically feel like they are part of the minority, representation within their colleges, she said. “One of the reasons that I think HBCUs and [women’s colleges] are so effective is because [they are] one of the only times that traditionally underrepresented groups in academia can be part of the majority,” she said, “It’s a powerful experience, and a productive one.”

Similarly, Parikh believes that women’s colleges play an important and unique role in assisting women. “Throughout history, women have been subordinated in various cultures and religions,” she said, “I believe that women’s colleges fight this historical notion.”