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HBCUs…My Rant

In applying to med school, Rants on January 24, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Without getting into a discussion about URM-status (one of the most highly debated topics in this crazy admissions process), I do want to use this forum to rant and vent a little about the necessities of medical HBCUs.  And why not? I might offend some, which is not my intent, however, this is my blog!  So I suppose if you disagree you can leave, comment, or start your own. Hmph! Lol  Let me start with my personal history with HBCUs…

While I did not choose to attend an HBCU for undergrad, I have several family members who did so and it is that confidence instilled in them which prepared them for their successful futures.  In particular, Howard University was their alma mater, something I did not know until I was in college (both are deceased now).  Had I known beforehand, I might have been persuaded to seriously consider them for undergrad (to say the least, HU’s correspondence even back then was comical…hmmm, some things never change).  However, my take on undergrad was that I wanted an institution that mimicked the real world. That meant no all-girl’s school, nor an all-Black (or majority Black) school – that’s just not real life.  Plus, I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood and in a very diverse church (300+ nationalities!). I thought it would be rough for me to acclimate to such a drastically different environment, especially in light of other adjustments that come with starting college. In the end, I am 100% certain I attended the institution God had in-store for me, and I have absolutely no regrets in that regard.  Now, to my rant on my more recent history with HBCUs…

I applied last application cycle and, in retrospect, had a poor choice of schools (not enough and not a diverse range of schools). Among schools I applied to were 2 of the 3 HBCUs, Howard and Morehouse.  [aside: the 3 HBCU med schools are Howard, Meharry, and Morehouse. Personally, I think Meharry and Howard are in the same leaky boat, with Morehouse doing just fine].  Any re-applicant out there knows the pain of waiting through an entire application cycle for a good word from just one school, so there is no need for me to rehash the stress I lived through in 2009.  At the time, Howard was at the top of my list.  My father’s alma mater, a med school committed to training physicians to serve the under-served, and it seemed very much like one large family – appeared to be a natural “top choice” to me.  Looking at their average stats, I saw that I was above average and figured I actually had a decent shot at at least getting an interview.  Little did I know that they use that clause about wanting “students committed to serving the under-served” as a rouse for choosing URM students that probably don’t stand a chance elsewhere…

Last year, I applied with HU at the top of my list.  In short, they “accidentally” left my application on hold the entire cycle instead of taking it off hold when I submitted my fall semester grades.  I found this out after many phone calls to the admissions office, during which I was spoken to rudely and even hung up on. (they really make some applicants jump through hoops)  By the time I actually got through to the dean of admissions, we had a lovely conversation, after which she said they were basically done interviewing, she’d “see what she could do,” and that if she couldn’t make things happen that year, I should be fine if I re-applied next year. Straight from the dean’s mouth. Said oh so nonchalantly too, which really irritated me. No apology, no remorse as to how this would affect my life, nothing.

Lo and behold, I didn’t even get a rejection letter last application cycle.  Then, I joined SDN and re-applied. I’m not going to dilute my feelings like I do on that website. I (and many others I know in similar situations with HU or Meharry) am genuinely offended! Especially after being on SDN and seeing who received “first round” invites. Absolutely ridiculous. Granted, I’m not speaking about everyone here, but when you have perfectly acceptable applicants that have above average stats for your institution, a strong expressed desire to attend said institution, as well as years of service confirming their want to medically attend to the under-served who are turned down by the bunch, there is a problem.  When you have first round interviews going mainly to low-stat applicants from other HBCUs or who clearly have a low probability of getting accepted elsewhere, there is a problem.  I can name numerous URM females with good stats and ECs to support this school’s mission statement who were denied even an interview last year, all of whom would have gladly attended either school and so raised the stats for these institutions.

But no. Let’s be real. In my mind, HBCUs are not reaching their full potential – they are not doing what they are supposed to do. (I suppose that’s debatable, as they are increasing the number of URM doctors in America, they just chose to draw heavily from the bottom of the pool)  Shoot, the complete and utter disgust that institution has left me in would have my father and my godmother rolling over shamefully in their graves right now.  I blame these schools for the stigma attached to URM applicants.  As has been stated time and time again, I would LOVE to see the stats for accepted URMs at non-HBCUs as compared to those at HBCUs. My guess is that they wouldn’t be as low as many claim URM stats are…

And I’m not saying that stats are everything, HOWEVER, you’re telling me that you can’t break a 25 on the MCAT and a 3.00 GPA, yet you deserve just as much as the next guy to go to med school?!? Get out of here. What does deserve mean anyway? You worked “hard” and therefore your efforts should be rewarded? False. Many people “deserve” to become a doctor, but many have to re-apply due to limited seating. And trust, I know many book smart people that will not make great doctors because they lack social skills and are otherwise dumb, however, I think the “deserve” argument is complete gutter.

So what is the purpose of HBCUs in the new millennium?   Is there even one?  Hmmm…to be honest, I have very mixed feelings on this. I think that if HBCUs are to exist, there is no reason for them to have such low stats. Every time I read their stats I shake my head and, as a URM, am a little bit embarrassed.  Contrary to popular belief, there are many URMs re-applicants with decent stats that could have occupied some of these HBCU seats that were not chosen because, let’s face it, these schools feel that the applicants will chose another school over them.  These students would have gladly accepted a seat in the class and raised the schools’ expected standards of excellence, however it is apparent that these schools are in no way concerned with that.  I am also choosing to believe that a majority of their applicants are also considered “disadvantaged” which introduces a whole new confounding variable.

Le sigh. I could keep bringing up points, but I’m tired, it’s a complicated issue, and a highly flawed and imperfect application process.  So, I’ll just end with “I am DONE with HBCUs and think very lowly of them.”  [ends rant and steps off soapbox]

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  1. Nice post.
    It does sound, based on your experience, that the application process at HU is a shit show (which I’ve heard numerous times), and for that, there is no excuse. Consider it God’s way of telling you you didn’t need to be there anyway, lol.
    Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if, (based on one of your major takeaways), you’d consider yourself anti-affirmative action?

    • Girl, I had to go ahead and withdraw my application…they were giving me migraines. God made His point crystal clear! Lol. I’m beyond honored you read my little blog! (even if it was my whiney rant)

      I’m actually pro-affirmative action…things in this country are nowhere near where they need to be. However, I think things in the med school app process are a little different than in the real world (or at least I hope). As things stand now, underrepresented minority students have a very low bar set for them, and are consequently only shooting for the bare minimum. Furthermore, HBCUs, which account for about 50% of the minority students in med school, seem rather satisfied with the position of this bar instead of setting the example by raising it. In real world America, I feel that even if all else is equal, the Black/Latino job applicant will be repetitively looked over for jobs they are qualified for, while the White/Asian applicants are favored. In my heart of hearts, I believe that in the med school app process, this wouldn’t hold true. However, it’s rare that, on paper, these two pools of applicants are anywhere near equal, the reason being low expectations fed to them over and over again. (I’ll admit, I’ve never seen AA play out in the real world, so I base this entirely on hearsay)

      In sum, the bar needs to be raised, perhaps incrementally, but it needs to be done. It annoys me to the point that I want to actively do something about it (other than make sure my numbers are solid). Hmmmm, perhaps I’ll aim to take over one of these schools and change things up a bit…

  2. Soror,

    I just have to say that I too feel your pain in this situation. I would have loved to have an acceptance (heck an interview) at Howard University Medical School. I pride myself on appreciating the rich history entrenched in the HBCU tradition and have a deep commitment to helping the underprivileged.

    That being said, I too have ‘above average’ stats to be considered for entry, and I too have not heard a peep from Howard. That is, except for the periodic comical e-mails from Ms. Walk and the sporadic updates. At this point in the cycle, I wish they would update me on my file and at least send me a rejection letter if they are not interested. It’s only fair! You took my money didn’t you?

    Anyway, I will get off my soapbox now, but I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in this experience with Howard University. I cannot speak for the other historically black medical schools because I didn’t apply, as they don’t accept international students. At least we know we will be getting our MDs and as the previous post said, this probably just shows that God doesn’t want us at HU anyway.

    Sisterly,
    AKAd3mic 😉

  3. Your grades were too low. Howard only takes the best.

    • Judging by their abysmal averages, knowledge of my own GPAs and MCAT score, my other accomplishments, my acceptances elsewhere, direct phone conversations with their director of admissions, and personal knowledge of others who’ve gained acceptance that had no justification for an acceptance (let alone an interview) anywhere save the color of their skin, I strongly disagree. But I find your delusion entertaining!

      If you’re going there, all I can say is good luck being taken seriously when you graduate. I’ve heard terrible stories about some of their graduates in residency. :: surprise surprise ::

  4. The points you have made are truly disheartening, albeit true. I, as well, have noticed the tendency of HBCUs to favor students who tend to test in the lower percentages of a Bell Curve. It took a full year for me to notice this, but it slowly, yet surely revealed itself. My situation is quite unique. My main focus preceding high school graduation was sports, namely football. I was an All-State prospect and had garnered the attention of several universities of a sundry array of conferences, ranging from NAIA to Division 1; so, my academics were hardly my concern. However, despite having been complacent enough to set mediocre academic goals for myself, I managed to graduate with a 3.8 GPA, 27 ACT and enough dual-enrollment and AP credits to be considered a sophomore in college…by happenstance, if you will. To make a long story short, a series of events landed me at an FCS participating HBCU (which I absolutely adore) on a full athletic scholarship. After a mere season of playing collegiate sports, I quit after coming to the realization that football is an unstable career path and I’m in love with science. Luckily, I qualified for a full academic scholarship at the university. From this point on, in lieu of football practice, I preoccupied myself with research. Around this time, I truly realized how misguided the students clearly are. The faculty encloses the students in a bubble of pseudo-enlightenment; a bubble that invites students to believe average grades and great connections comprise the path to success, superceding innovation and hard work. HBCUs do an excellent job of developing competition within HBCUs, and HBCUs only…and that’s the main problem. By only promoting competition between HBCUs, students become closed off to the rest of academia. This subconsciously causes students to actually believe the ignorantly birthed stigma that minorities cannot compete with majorities. They forget that the average ACT score of a student entering college is approximately 23, while even the most prestigious HBCU averages match that number, at best. I’m saying this to stress that by not encouraging competition with PWIs, some HBCU graduatates simply do not stand a chance in the workforce. As conservative as it sounds, in order to produce better results, HBCUs have to become more selective. The problem is not that there are no minorities capable of scoring in the 30’s…the problem comes in the fact that they’re all going to PWIs because they believe an HBCU education is inadequate, which is most certainly not the case. As with any school, a student’s success is largely dependent on his/her own effort. In most cases, HBCUs are teaching the exact same material as PWIs and have just as qualified professors…but students rarely take advantage of that fact. It is true that many HBCUs don’t have top notch research facilities; but that shouldn’t stop the student from conducting top notch research. There are summer undergraduate programs BEGGING for URMs to apply, especially in the STEM fields. Now that I’m done with my somewhat unrelated rant, I’ll now get back to the topic. I’ve noticed that accomplishments I consider mediocre often command high praise from professors, and decent performances are seen as acceptable. The very same professors who worked so diligently to become experts in their field have become so desensitized by poor students that they’ve completely lowered their expectations. Along with their lowered expectations comes favoritism in the direction of underachievers, supplied by the false assumption that the best and brightest URMs would not consider them, or even disdain them; when, in fact, some of the best and brightest choose HBCUs because that’s where they want to be, not as an option upon which to fall back.

  5. Hi Guys. I just stumbled on this site and the HBCU “Rants”. OK, so I am a graduate of a southern Jim Crow high school in NC (Hi, Duke Univ), Howard undergrad (“67), Meharry Dental (’71), Boston Univ (’73). I have been a faculty/dept chair at Meharry (dental) since 1974 (Emeritus now). Most importantly, I have been integral to the admission process at Meharry for much of those 35 odd years This is my first reply to a blog !!! Ugh !! (I’m dental, but the med school is even more strident.)

    The naivete that you guys are showing about HBCUs is painful to an old head like me. I have come to understand, though, that the experience is so different from PWIs that it’s like apples and oranges. Forget about using the same criteria for each.

    Did you know that Meharry gets about 6500 applications for about 100 spots in med and 2000 for 50 spots in dental? Let me assure you that neither school would have any problem filling it class with the “high MCAT and DATs” that you describe yourselves as having. The problem is that Meharry takes it’s Mission (note capital) very seriously. We are one of 65 odd dental schools, and one of about 125 odd med schools. Yet we still produce the bulk of the doctors who serve my “peeps”.

    The dental school does the impossible. Did you know that some 80% of our graduate do extra study after graduation. (GPRs, specialty, Military, Public health, etc.?) Contrary to your rumors-heard, Meharry students are highly sought out. (Again, I speak for dental since that’s what I know best.) This year I saw 6 of my Black students accepted into grad programs in highly competitive programs in pediatric dentistry this year alone. I don’t think the other 60 schools can match that – My frame of reference is always Black students !) I have had over 100 over my career !!…BLACIK !!! In a studly of these pediatric graduates, 82% serve mostly minority patients by choice !)

    Oh yea, did you hear that Meharry seniors last year, “low DAT scores and all”, completed the Part-1 and Part-2 national boards and the new cliniclal exams at HIGHER than national average ! ?

    Here is the scoop (the “dokey”) We simply have the lower standardized scores (MCAT and DAT) because these scores tell less bout the minority student than any other criteria – relative to our Mission That is, “what we are trying to accomplish!” So we put less emphasis on the scores.The scores are not “indicators”. We also have strong feelings about our responsibility to HBCU undergrad schools. (Me, especially) and to the students that choose to attend them. ” It’s not what you come in with, but what you leave with !!!”

    What’s “best”? “A3.5 from Tougaloo or a 3.5 from Tulane?” A 3.5 from Florida State or a 3.5 from FAMU? A 3.5 from Harvard or a 3.5 from Howard. Our (My) thought is that it depends purely on what you wnat them to do with the degree.

    Consider:

    1. A black male/female (“target student”) from Fisk, a Jubilee Singer, from the “hood”, inner city public high school, single mom, dad left when he was six, supports his two brothers, a 3.2 avg in biology. and a 24/5 MCAT, supported by his church, wants to do public health/primary care medicine and go back home.

    2. A suburban daughter (“non target”) of an established neurosurgeon in Beverly Hills……….(etc.), 30 MCAT and a 3:6 from UCLA and wants to do opthalmology and join her dad.

    3. A “Minority” student (That’s YOU at PWIs….grouped with the Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic. Indian, etc. Usually, the”minority” group leaves about 2 to 4 Blacks in a class at most PWIs, half of which will be from hBcus.) The minority, ie, immigrant student has a 3.8 gpa, a 32 MCAT and is undecided on his/her plans.

    Question: Who get the last available spot at Meharry Medical College, specifically ? Why?

    Hint: If YOU fell desperately sick right now and fell on the floor in agony….What’s the most important thing about a doctor??

    I could go on for days about this stuff. I bleed Meharry blood.

    Let me know if you want more from me.

    EHH

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