I Transferred From an HBCU to a PWI. This Is How It Changed My Life.
Editor, Reviewer & Writer
Editor, Reviewer & Writer
Since my first year in high school, I had dreams of attending an historically Black college or university (HBCU). It was almost inevitable, from growing up hearing the many stories of my Florida A&M University legacy family's college years to wanting to be just like Denise Huxtable in "A Different World." I was dead set on following my dreams.
In the second semester of my junior year of high school, the pandemic hit, and all of my dreams seemed to come to a complete standstill. All of the SAT and ACT prep, college trips, and extra credit programs that I poured myself into that year seemed completely pointless. Nonetheless, in my senior year, the world began to open again, and with that, so did college admissions. After being rejected from my dream HBCU, I was accepted by Hampton University. It felt like it was meant to be, and I was thrilled to still be able to make my goal come true.
Dream School, Conservative Mindset
I began my journey at Hampton University the day after I graduated high school. I said goodbye to my family, friends, and hometown in what felt like a total blur. I loved my time in Virginia; I felt like I was able to connect with a completely different side of myself and my culture.
Even though it was a good time, it just wasn't a good fit for me. As a theater arts major, I didn't fit inside the rigid boxes of a college that felt traditional and too old-school. I felt that with the conservative mindset of the school, art majors like me just ended up falling through the cracks. I did not believe that my major was taken seriously by the school and because of that, I wasn't taken seriously as a student.
I talked with my therapist about what I could do to fix the situation I was in. I decided that I wanted to be somewhere with like-minded people, where I wouldn't be the only person with my major in the room. I knew that I had to transfer, but that decision process was not easy. I felt as if I was throwing away my shot after getting a second chance to attend the HBCU of my dreams. Still, I took a leap of faith. During winter break, I decided not to continue at my HBCU and applied to Columbia College Chicago.
Just When I Felt Othered, I Found a Home…
As I anxiously waited for a decision to arrive, I debated every day whether I wanted to attend a predominantly white institution (PWI). I realized that although I was going to be surrounded by like-minded artists, I would become a minority in the room because of my identity as a Black woman. But when I got in, I took a leap of faith and enrolled.
I ended up loving my new school. The class sizes were smaller, and the environment was more inclusive. But when I walked into my first meeting with all of the students in the theater arts major, I felt it, the feeling I had been dreading: being the only Black girl in the room.
I remember glancing around the room, desperately trying to find another Black actor, but there were none in sight. I immediately felt dejected; the anxiety of leaving the comfort of my own Black community and having to codeswitch made me feel stuck. I was outside of the mold again as if no matter where I went, I would always have to be "other." Not wanting to make the same mistakes as last semester, I decided to join the school's Black Student Union.
At my first Black Student Union meeting, I joined the executive board and became secretary for the year. I had no idea what to expect. Being a transfer student added to the pressure of not fitting in, and I worried that I still wouldn't be able to find my place. But there I saw Black dancers, actors, poets, writers, painters, and every kind of artist under the sun able to be comfortable in the space meant for us.
In this space, there was no box to fit into. It was just about coming together to know that we are all here for each other. That's when I finally felt like I had made the right decision. Now going into my second semester, I've learned how much having a home on campus changes your college experience.
If I could go back in time to talk to myself as a first-year in high school, I would tell myself to take the limits off of my identity. I am not just an artist or a Black person, I am a Black artist. It took work to make a place for myself, and I am glad that I didn't give up on making it.
There should be no debate on whether Black students should go to an HBCU or PWI. The focus should be on finding a school that fits all of a student's needs, rather than a school that forces a student to fit into a box based on their identity. I never thought I would end up at a PWI, but ultimately, it changed my life.
Meet the Author
Tymony Nolan (she/her/hers) is an actress, student, and multi-hyphenate creative from Chicago. She is passionate about telling stories and creating art that inspires and entertains. She works hard to bring my projects to life and is always looking for new ways to challenge herself creatively.