Why did you choose an HBCU?
Both of my parents attended Howard University, an HBCU, so I was very familiar with what HBCUs had to offer academically and socially. However, even after practically growing up on Howard’s campus, I was not sure that I wanted to attend an HBCU. I applied to several colleges and universities – predominately white and HBCUs alike – and ultimately chose to attend an HBCU because of what the environment had to offer: a sense of belonging and purpose.
Where did you attend?
I attended Spelman College, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia.
What kind of experiences did you have unique to your HBCU?
From my first day on campus, I met black women from across the country and across the globe; women from the most privileged of backgrounds and women who had to scrape together money each semester to stay in school; women who were the first in their families to attend college and women who were third- or fourth-generation college students. It was the first time that I had ever been in a collective environment with so many black women of various experiences, backgrounds, skin tones, and aspirations. And, all of these women were my sisters.
The amazing part of being at Spelman was its deep sense of sisterhood. That sisterhood inspired, challenged, and, frankly, intimidated me. However, I gained so much confidence from it because we learned from each other, supported each other, and held each other accountable.
How did attending an HBCU prepare you for your post-college experience?
Attending Spelman instilled in me confidence that I could not have gained anywhere else. However, even more than that, the legacy of HBCUs, in general, instilled in me a sense of purpose. It shaped my decision to build a career in public service and the nonprofit sector. It encouraged me to set, and then meet, high standards. It also taught me to lead with integrity and compassion, qualities that are critical to my work today.
What words of advice would you give students who are in their college search journey now?
Trust yourself to find the place that is right for you. There is a wide range of colleges and universities here and abroad that you can attend, and with hard work, you can get a stellar education at any of them. However, there probably is only one place that makes you feel as if you truly belong there. Those are the places in which you will not only succeed, but will thrive.
For more information about historically black colleges and universities, please visit the United Negro College Fund, (UNCF) and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
Cheryl Williams is vice president of the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute, whose mission is the bring women policymakers together across party lines to advance issues of importance to women and their families. She previously served as associate director of Government Affairs at UNCF.