MERIDEN — Students from Both Platt and Maloney High School packed into the Platt auditorium on Wednesday to hear from a panel of Historically Black College and University alumni who discussed their collegiate experiences and offered guidance to prospective students.
Topics discussed included navigating the application process, securing financial aid, networking and a summary of the unique educational opportunities available at HBCUs with panelists hailing from seven universities: Clark Atlanta University, Fisk University, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University.
This week’s event comes on the heels of the Black History Month Challenge — an essay competition for Connecticut students enrolled in or committed to HBCUs with a $5,000 scholarship prize — launching earlier this month.
Though not all guest speakers had been acquainted with each other before meeting up at Platt to present, they shared a powerful bond and posed for group photos and cracked jokes from across a long, draped table.
One presenter, Fisk University alumna and Meriden resident Nickimmy Hayes attributed the palpable chemistry between herself and her fellow panelists to a shared identity and set of similar experiences which she said lends itself to an instant connection between HBCU graduates
“That’s usually the kind of camaraderie a lot of HBCU alumni have with each other even if we didn’t know each other,” Hayes said. “It’s just that pride of being an HBCU alumn and having those shared experiences.”
The school-sponsored meeting Wednesday afternoon was a first for Meriden students and caught the eye of several attendees as recently as hours before conversations kicked off.
One student, Platt High School senior Gabby Williams, said a teacher informed her of the event on Wednesday morning and she attended to seek advice on a variety of subjects, including the process of enrolling in community college for a year before transferring to an HBCU.
Williams said she originally did not plan to attend a larger university, hoping to avoid spending four years away from home at an overwhelmingly majority-white institution, but her perspective on ruling out college entirely evolved as she learned more about HBCUs.
“I actually had no interest in college before because I had mostly gone to predominantly white institutions,” Williams said. “I found out about HBCUs and I thought that was the space for me, but then the money was a problem, so coming here really helped me.”
Other students, such as Terrence Ellison already carved out a future for themselves at a historically Black college and were in attendance to plot their next steps as they set their sights on the fall.
Ellison, a Platt senior who was accepted to Virginia State University, said the meeting instilled a sense of urgency in him, as discussions on the need to select a major and carve out a social niche encouraged him to begin planning instantly.
“It did motivate me a lot more,” Ellison said. “The stuff they were saying, it made me realize that I need to start figuring out what I want to do now, instead of waiting until the last minute or waiting until next week. Just get it done now.”
Students who previously had no intention of attending an HBCU also stopped by Wednesday’s forum and left the meeting intrigued by the learning and interpersonal environment of an historically black university.
Platt student Youssef Chtaiby said he previously toured non-HBCUs but was underwhelmed by a lack of a distinct culture and tradition around black students which he said he believes exists on HBCU campuses.
“I haven’t applied to any HBCUs yet, but now I will after this,” Chtaiby said. “To be honest, I had gone on some college visits and stuff, and [other schools] don’t really have a culture. “That [HBCU culture] is something I’m into, something where you’ve got a voice.”
Whether Platt will host an HBCU alumni panel again next year has yet to be determined, but Hayes —who said she personally inquired about creating a space for HBCU graduates and high school students to network — is hopeful similar events will be held moving forward.
Hayes said she believes HBCUs are not typically promoted by schools as strong options for students compared to other institutions. “It’s important to have forums like this because, on average, unless you know about HBCUs or went to one,” Hayes said, “I don’t think it’s always in the front of people’s minds to share with students that these are also great options for students.”