on paper, but you’ll need to visit the campus and get that feeling.” She got “that feeling” when The Cosby Show filmed on the Spelman campus. “I was old enough to realize the magnitude of the school. Later, I decided that this was where I needed to be–in a school that is dedicated to developing a holistic African American woman.”
Interior designer Sheila Bridges (Brown University, ’86) agrees that a visit to the college or university is essential in the decision-making process. “I arrived on Brown’s campus and immediately said, ‘This is where I want to go.’ It was a very intuitive decision. It was a place that I felt wholly and completely comfortable. It’s one of those things that proves the power of trusting your own intuition and trusting your own guts,” says the host of the TV show Sheila Bridges: Designer Living and author of Furnishing Forward (Little Brown & Co., $40). “I couldn’t have made a better decision.”
One key thing to look for, adds Pulliam, is class size. “At Spelman, there weren’t big stadium-size classes where you’re just a number. A small, intimate learning environment is really beneficial.” Pulliam adds that she was also able to take advantage of resources and attend classes at other HBCUs such as Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.
Whatever school you attend, make sure to step outside your comfort zone and interact with people unlike yourself, adds Spiva. “It’s important to come out of your cocoon. It might be comfortable, but it’s also limiting,” he says. And Whittaker agrees, “When I went to Harvard, some of the black kids sat at the “black” table for four years. It’s a shame to go to a place like Harvard for four years and not take advantage of the environment.”
Johnson says that the beauty of attending a school like Stanford is that it affords the opportunity to interact with other African Americans at different socioeconomic levels as well. She recalls one incident in which star quarterback John Elway arrived on campus driving a shiny sports car: “It wasn’t just white kids who were wealthy,” she says, “I had a black classmate who was driving a car of equal caliber. That just blew me away.”
But Bridges, who designed former President Bill Clinton’s office in Harlem, adds that the differences she saw at the predominantly white Brown University, helped prepare her for the real world. “For me, part of the reason to choose a school like Brown rather than a traditionally black institution was that this is real life. This is what I’m going to have to deal with on a daily basis for the rest of my life,” she says. “There’s no question that it’s a predominantly white school, but there was a very strong sense of community among blacks on campus.”
Whittaker admits that for many African American students, the idea of attending a predominantly white school can be intimidating–because of its reputation and perceived expense. “There are students, particularly students of color, who might