environment in which he will thrive.”
In addition to matching the environment to the student, Christ says it’s a good idea for African American students concerned about diversity to look at the ethnic composition of the student body. “Look for extracurricular activities that focus on the students and that provide a way [for students] to meet other African American [peers],” she adds.
Filmmaker Spike Lee (Morehouse, ’79) adds that overall diversity is especially important on predominantly white campuses. “Look at the diversity of the faculty, students, and administration. Look at the alumni. Who are the people that the school produces? This is a diverse world, and it’s a better learning environment when you have people from every walk of life. It’s just a better learning experience.”
Bruce Spiva (Yale University, ’88) agrees, noting that the diversity shouldn’t be just racial. A partner at the law firm Jenner & Block, Spiva says, “Look for a place where there is not just racial diversity but also socioeconomic diversity. That’s important because who you interact with can be an educational experience in itself.”
But, Pamela K. Johnson (Stanford University, ’82), co-editor of Tenderheaded (Pocket Books; $25.95), says that often, socioeconomic diversity can be intimidating. “Stanford was a beautiful campus, and there are lots of opportunities. But at the same time, I was aware not only of race but also of class in a way that I was not before. There were a lot of students whose fathers were ambassadors, neurosurgeons, and Texas oil men–people who were running the country, and for a girl coming from a lower middle class neighborhood [Carson, California], it was off-putting at times.” However, Johnson,42, adds, there are great benefits to attending a top-name university such as Stanford. “It was highly challenging; it’s a great place to sharpen your edge intellectually, and there is a strong sense of competition. But I was in a funk at times there. As much as I thought Stanford presented me with a lot of opportunity, I felt that the pie had already been carved up.” Still, she adds, “Stanford seems to be a nice name to wave around.”
While some alumni opted for mainstream institutions, others, like Keshia Knight Pulliam (Spelman College, ’01) and Creative Artists Agency Foundation Program Director Michelynn “Miki” Woodard (Hampton University, ’93) tout the wealth of their experiences at HBCUs. “I came out a much stronger person, and educationally, I got a solid foundation,” says The Cosby Show alum. “If you ask me, you can’t help but being pro-black and pro-feminist after going to Spelman.” Pulliam, 23, says she took advantage of the “whole college experience,” including pledging.
Besides Hampton University’s strong academic reputation, Woodard, 31, says it was important for her to be immersed in African American culture after living in environments as varied as London and Puerto Rico. “I had not had the opportunity to have more than one or two [African Americans] in my classes; I wanted to find out what it was like to be with people who looked like