Opinion | PWI homecoming has nothing on HBCU homecomings

By Ajani Powell, For The Pitt News

HBCUs’ homecomings are so eventful and iconic that attending a Predominantly White Institution makes homecoming feel like a welcome-home gathering — dull and stringent.

When I look at Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ homecomings, it feels as if everything here at Pitt is watered down. Water is nice, and you need to drink it to stay hydrated, but it is bland. The rich culture and history celebrated at HBCUs’ homecomings ignite the passion and significance of those participating. They are celebrating Black scholars, Black success and Black Excellence because there was a time when Black people could not advance their education.

Homecoming welcomes back those who have completed their ancestors’ wildest dreams and gives motivation to those still on their journey. It is more than just a welcome-home party right before midterms — it is a family reunion. That is why PWIs have nothing on HBCU homecomings.

As some say, “there’s no HoCo like an HBCU HoCo cuz an HBCU HoCo don’t stop.” Although HBCU homecomings happen once a year, their impact does not stop. Homecoming at HBCUs is about developing a love for your university and taking the time to embrace its culture. Students can evolve their pride and unity for their HBCU by exploring its rich history, different styles and fresh ideas. Homecoming holds a great significance to HBCUs, as schools focus on connections with alumni and learn more about their school’s history. They take the effort to advertise their homecomings so that everyone knows what events there are and who they’ll have performing.

HBCUs work hard to make homecoming memorable, meanwhile, at Pitt, I can’t recall any University-organized homecoming events last year because they weren’t that noteworthy. I remember some events that Black Action Society and Black Pitt put on, but that has more to do with my involvement with them and the traditions that align more with an HBCU. For instance, BAS hosts an annual pageant called Mr. and Mrs. Black Pitt. In this pageant, you must serve us your best representation of you — showcasing your talents and expressing your beliefs. We want to see dignity and grace. We want to uplift Black Excellence.

Homecoming pageants are popular at HBCUs. One of the more known is the Miss Hampton pageant held at Hampton University’s homecoming each year. This pageant isn’t about the prettiest faces with the best talents winning and getting a crown. The woman who wins this pageant becomes the face of the University. They must exhibit poise and passion among dignity and respect. It is a longstanding tradition that the school embraces and alumni return to see — it demonstrates the significance of homecoming at HBCUs.

Simone Williams, a 2017 Miss Hampton contestant, loves homecoming because it creates a sense of pride for her university.

“My favorite part of homecoming is seeing the alumni come back,” Williams said. “It makes me take pride in my university. It’s like a family reunion — especially with the food and music!”

For HBCUs, homecoming is more than a football game and some concerts. It is an uplifting environment to connect with your alma mater and enjoy the experiences you share. We see this in Black Pitt collaborations with the African American Alumni Council. Last year Black Action Society, African American Alumni Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council came together to organize a Stroll Competition — an event that displays stepping of Greek Organizations.

Stroll competitions are legendary. The Divine Nine Greek organizations, the nine historically Black Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities that compose NPHC, came together to showcase African American dance styles of stepping, a percussive dance where performers use their whole body to produce rhythm. Stepping originated from African and Caribbean culture, just as these Greek organizations established by HBCU alums derived from Black scholarship and service. By hosting the strolling competition, these organizations are preserving tradition and history. Black Pitt hosts this event in Alumni Hall to kindle the relationship between Black alum and current students so that there is an institution of family that recognizes the rich history that conjures legacy.

I think it is also obvious that the cultural impact of an HBCU homecoming is greater than that of PWIs. At an HBCU, Greek life is extremely involved and hosts events that connect alumni with current students. They may host job fairs and perform different acts of service, some of which may include holding competitions to raise money for different organizations. Greek organizations including the Divine Nine will host performances that may involve dancing or stepping. These are traditional acts that have a foundation and significance in the Black community.

Greek life at PWIs doesn’t have the same involvement with homecoming. Black organizations may decide to host events, but these are not normally promoted or hosted by the University. I don’t think Pitt’s Greek life has to present performances as those at HBCUs, but I do believe that it would be better to host events that represent diverse cultures and uplift the entire Pitt community. This will create more unity and appreciation for traditions and cultures beyond our own.

HBCUs’ homecomings have more cultural influence, which is another reason they’re more impactful. For example, Beyonce’s homecoming at Coachella embraced the culture from HBCU celebrations rather than that of a PWI. She did this to emphasize that Black culture is a force with no limitations. It cannot be stopped. And it shall be celebrated. The struggles of the African American people were too great, yet they prevailed and established institutions in which they can educate themselves for a better chance in the world. There is not enough applause or praise that could dignify the chances taken again and again from the Black community, so when they rejoice those accomplishments, what reason would there be to hold back? That is why Predominantly White Institutions are not touching Historically Black Colleges and Institutions’ homecoming — they are recognizing so much more when creating school pride and inviting alumni. If you are interested in learning more about it or getting another perspective, check out the video “‘Baptized in Blackness’: Why Homecoming Is Vital to the Black College Experience.”

There is no denying that HBCU homecoming is empowering. It is uplifting to not only the university you celebrate, but the community participating. Although PWIs should not focus solely on one community, they can represent the varying cultures that occupy it and embrace their history. Whether this be collaborating with different organizations to have a full platform or inviting diverse backgrounds to participate in greater celebration, there is so much more we as a University can do. I want to know what is going on during homecoming and I want to feel represented in it, because if I’m coming home I want to feel included.

Ajani Powell writes about social influences and Black culture. Contact them at [email protected].