me. Plus, Hampton fit my personality,” she adds.
For Woodard, the pull was even stronger because her parents are Hampton University alumni. No pressure there. Adds her mother, Suzanne Woodard (Hampton University, ’70), a homemaker, “We encouraged the kids to go to Hampton.” Her husband, Thurmond Woodard (Hampton University, ’70), Dell Computer Corp.’s vice president of global diversity in Austin, Texas, says laughing, “We told Miki, ‘You can choose whatever school you want, but the check is going to Hampton.'” For Suzanne, 52, it was also important to make that connection with other African Americans in a supportive environment. Thurmond, 53, continues, “There’s a value in going to an HBCU. You’re going to experience culture that you’ve not experienced before and you’re going to learn history that you did not learn previously.”
Like Woodard, William Moss III (Hampton University, ’95) has a long history of family attending and graduating from HBCUs. But Moss, 29, says the deciding factor in choosing Hampton was that it provided the best program for his major, computer science. “It’s more important than before that students know what they want to pursue. If you have that focus in the beginning, you can figure out where you’re going to land.”
Mark Whittaker (Harvard College, ’79), editor of Newsweek magazine, says he understands the appeal of HBCUs for African American students. “That’s the environment in which they will flourish,” he says. But he adds that it’s just as important to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds because it’s preparation for the larger world. Part of finding a “fit” at mainstream schools, he says, involves making
connections with not only other students but also with African American faculty. “Look at the number of African American faculty on staff. Seek them out and try to build relationships,” he says. “One of the great things about going to a school like Harvard is the contacts you make; take advantage of that.”
PAY THEM A VISIT
One often-overlooked method of judging whether a college is the right fit is the campus visit. Our experts cite this as essential in making the decision about where to go to school. “When I was 7, my father took me and my brother to visit family in the D.C. area, and he took us to Howard. I remember getting out of the VW Beetle and just being amazed. I was being taken aback by college students who looked like my family and me,” says Lisa Edmiston (Howard University, ’87). That visit sealed her decision.
“If a family can afford it, they should take a trip to visit campuses,” says Christ. “This is really useful because they can feel immediately whether or not they want to be on a campus.” Syndicated radio host and HBCU supporter Tom Joyner (Tuskegee University, ’70) adds: “When kids go on the tour and get a taste of what an HBCU is like, I think most of them decide then and there.”
Pulliam agrees. “Visit the colleges if you can. A lot of times things look good