In a now deleted Instagram post, a young white woman with the social handle @_camillarose shared that she was honored to be transferring to Spelman College, the number one ranked HBCU in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. Twitter users who screenshot the Instagram post before it was deleted took to Twitter to discuss the legitimacy of non-Blacks at Historically Black Colleges or Universities, in addition to what it might mean for the future of racial dynamics at such schools. You can see Rose’s post here.
“Transferring to a Historically Black College or University has been my dream for almost two years now. I could never have genuinely imagined I’d be transferring to the #1 HBCU in the country, Spelman College,” she wrote. “The home of Black Girl magic. I feel beyond grateful for every facet of my journey & for this IMMENSE privilege. During April of 2019, I stood gazing at the ocean next to one of my best friends at the Black Student Union bonfire when he told me I should think about going to an HBCU. From that moment on, I knew God had a plan for me.”
“I understand the privilege I hold as a White woman in America and I choose to wake up everyday [sic] using this privilege to create a more equitable and healed world. I aim to continue to learn, advocate, be uncomfortable, speak up for change…” she added, before the image cut off her comments.
After Twitter user @_xmilan shared a screenshot of Rose’s post on Twitter asking “How y’all feel about this” on December 6, it has since accrued more than 5,000 thousand Quote Tweets, with people on the site having plenty to say about the complexities of Rose’s message. Some didn’t see the big deal, using examples of Black people attending PWIs. Others, however, said if she claims to be an ally, she should want to protect the sanctity of Black spaces.
Rose would eventually respond to the commotion she created. In a follow-up message, she attempted to clarify her “intentions” behind the original post. She said “For one, I understand that White Saviorism is a very huge issue and my post literally wreaked [sic] of White Saviorism… I am not aiming to make excuses and I am here to hear what people have to say, my intention doesn’t matter right now. It’s the way I have affected people.” She goes on to say that she is aware of how her attending an HBCU takes up space and that she isn’t trying to make her time at the college “a character/personal development camp” for herself.
“Me wanting to go to an HBCU is not something appropriate for me to center around myself, my experience, my wants, my needs,” she wrote. “I fully acknowledge my privilege…Blackness, allyship and using phrases like ‘Black Girl Magic’ is not an aesthetic. Black Lives Matter is not a trend. It’s not a trend. I am aiming to be better everyday [sic]. Once again, I am sorry for everyone I have harmed.”
According to Forbes, Spelman College, which is a women-only institution, is made up of 96.4 percent of Black and African American students. Its white students merely make up -0.1 percent in comparison. If this is the case, does it really make that much of a difference whether white students are on campus?
As Twitter users pointed out, other races attending HBCUs is nothing new. Remember Marisa Tomei’s character of Maggie at Hillman College in the first season of A Different World?
And in a 2019 piece written by The Washington Post, Morgan College, an HBCU based in Maryland, was highlighted for admitting Hispanic, white and international students of all backgrounds.
“Historically black schools across the country are making similar diversity pushes, partly because African American enrollment alone is not enough to sustain them when traditionally white schools are doing more to recruit minorities,” the article states. “Speaking on this dynamic, professor Anthony Bradley of King’s College in New York noted ‘HBCUs wisely are opening themselves up to students beyond the black community in order to remain sustainable. The ones who don’t do that are probably going to close.'”
We reached out to Spelman College and their admissions office for comment to see if they also felt diversifying the school was necessary to maintain it. We will update this article with any responses we receive.
Other races at HBCUs is not anything new. And yes, it’s understandable that HBCUs open up admission to not just Black women and men but those who are interested. The issue really isn’t Spelman or HBCUs, but rather, the message conveyed by Rose.
Allyship doesn’t have to come at the cost of taking up room in Black spaces, especially when your reasoning for doing so is to be immersed in “Black girl magic” as a white woman. She made no mention of her excitement about the education she was hoping to receive or what programs drew her to Spelman. Instead, she was encouraged to apply by a friend while hanging at a Black Student Union and was excited to “create a more equitable healed world” by being present among the predominately Black student population at the college. But if she is genuine about being an ally and promoting equity, what is stopping her from practicing those things outside of an HBCU?
The real problem lies in the fact that Rose’s actions showcase performative allyship and not the real thing. HBCUs were originally created to provide higher education to Black people when the community was unwelcome at existing institutions. They have come to be a place where Black students can go and not have to think about the constant racial dynamics that they would deal with at a PWI. Her presence at Spelman alone, and those of other races as well, makes that harder. Of course, Spelman shouldn’t be a “Black’s only” place, as that would be discriminatory. And it is commendable that Rose acknowledged her privilege. But all that being said, a white person doesn’t have to infiltrate historically Black spaces if they want to educate themselves on how to be a better ally in the fight for change.