Whites at Black Colleges

Morehouses first white valedictorian puts spotlight on non-black HBCU students

graduationeducation1Joshua W. Packwood’s graduation from Morehouse College this month has received national attention. Sure, Packwood is smart—his 4.0 GPA as an economics major helped secure his standing as class valedictorian. He’s also landed a job with New York-based investment firm Goldman Sachs. He is now part of a legacy of notable Morehouse alumni, including Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Spike Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson.

However, a particularly notable accomplishment for this Kansas City, Missouri native is his history-making moment as Morehouse’s first white valedictorian since its establishment in 1867. For more than 50 years, the Atlanta-based college has had white students, and about less than a dozen were enrolled when Morehouse president Robert M. Franklin Jr., Ph.D., recalls being a student there in the 1970s.

At Morehouse, Packwood was one of about 112 of the non-African American students who represented about 4% of the historically black college’s 2,800 students, Franklin says. He anticipates some growth in that percentage, given that the school has “committed itself very strongly to internationalizing [its] campus.” A trend he adds that the college has had for years, especially with welcoming African and more recently, Asian, students to the campus.

While Packwood’s distinction may make him an anomaly, he’s not alone. The two top-performing graduates with 4.0 GPAs this semester at Alcorn State University were white students from Russia, according to Napoleon Moses, vice president for academic affairs. The Mississippi university for the past decade has been a destination for several Russian undergraduate and graduate students.

Alcorn State’s status as a land-grant university enables it to receive state and federal funding to conduct research, and its extension related to agriculture and rural development plays a role in its attractiveness to international students, explains Dovi Alipoe, director of global programs. In 2007, Alcorn State entered an agreement with Voronezh State Agricultural University in southwest Russia where students from that country are expected to join Alcorn State this fall. The university’s nursing and MBA programs are also heavily attended by non-African Americans.

According to Moses, about 10% of Alcorn State’s 3,100 population are students from Russia, Africa, South America, Asia, and the Caribbean, Moses says. In the next decade or two, Moses believes the demographics of the university will become more diverse, also reflecting its region which has demographics of about 50/50 blacks and whites.

Of the 373,548 total students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in 2005, blacks comprised 264,381of students, or about 71%, while whites comprised 54,358, or 14.5%. Latinos comprised 31,571, or 8.4%; Asian/ Pacific Islanders, 8,325 or 2.2%; and, Native Americans, 998, or 0.2%. Also, nonresidential aliens comprised 7,730 or 2%, and 6,188 students or 1.65%, didn’t list there race, says Lezlie Baskerville, president and chief executive of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), referring to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education and included in NAFEO’s publication, The State of America’s Black College.

Baskerville says HBCUs were always open to

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  • Jama

    I think it’s a wonderful thing that our schools as a nation offer so much to so many.