Middle Tennessee families of color navigate college admissions process with help of HBCU Fair

Middle Tennessee high school students and their families gathered at University School of Nashville on Saturday, August 26 to meet college admissions officers and learn about making informed decisions on higher education.
By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Director of Marketing & Communications

Hundreds of nervous students were ushered into University School of Nashville on Saturday, August 26 by their anxious parents and supportive teachers and coaches. They did not come for Saturday school but instead to consider the Black experience through the college admission process and to learn about historically Black colleges and universities.

“The HBCU experience cultivates a community and fosters an environment where success is expected and possibilities are endless. I cannot wait for us to embark on that journey,” USN Black Student Union President Tre Sheat ’24 addressed the crowd, calming peers from across Middle Tennessee.

More than 740 individuals pre-registered for USN’s second annual HBCU Fair. Several Metro Nashville Public School and Clarksville Academy buses brought dozens more teens to USN’s Edgehill Campus.

HBCUs present where Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Alcorn State University, American Baptist College, Bethune-Cookman University, Clark Atlanta University, Fisk University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Hampton University, Jackson State University, Morehouse College, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, Spelman College, Tennessee State University, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University.

"At USN, we do not have a myopic view of success for our graduates. They can reach their ultimate goals through a variety of paths. For our students of color, we want them to understand how HBCUs can offer different environments and opportunities than other universities. For all of our students, we want them to research colleges beyond a name, prestige, or perception,” said USN Director of College Counseling Aaron Fulk. “We want them to answer with confidence: Where will I thrive? In recent years, a number of USN graduates have determined that question with an HBCU. Seeing Sperling Gym and Durnan Auditorium brimming with Nashville students eager to learn more information about postsecondary choices provides one of the highlights of the year for me. The event truly encompasses USN as an independent school with a public purpose." 

While teens spoke with admissions officers from the colleges and universities in Sperling Gym and Cafeteria, most of their families gathered in Durnan Auditorium to hear from Tim Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown, authors of “The Black Families' Guide to College Admissions,” who discussed the tensions when choosing between a predominantly white institution and an HBCU.

Herndon-Brown said exposure to higher education, mapping high school courses, discussing finances and testing options should begin in eighth or ninth grade for families to make better-informed decisions later during their child’s senior year of high school. Then during the college application and admissions process, they should weigh cost, location to be physically and emotionally safe, academic major, and career choice.

Students should know why they are applying to each institution, Fields said, and ultimately, deciding which college or university is best will vary by family.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, but what you do with that opportunity,” Herndon-Brown said. “We wrote this book to close the information gap so that parents come to the conversation armed with information to make an informed decision.”

Fields and Herndon-Brown also shared the undergraduate and graduate schools of several celebrities, politicians, and Fortune 500 chief executive officers to affirm that “success happens at more than one place.” They also warmed the room with nostalgia by sharing Hillman College was the HBCU with the second-largest following on Instagram.

The fictional college was the scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s TV sitcom “A Different World” and “showed that how different and how beautiful Black people can be … and the HBCU love cannot be replicated,” Herndon-Brown said. “The ages of 18 to 22 are tender, and we want them to go to a place where they are celebrated and not tolerated.”

There also were Black-owned food trucks on-site during the HBCU Fair. See photos from the event here.

“USN has embraced its heritage as an independent school with a public purpose. The fact that students from all walks of life, far and near, have traveled each year University School of Nashville to learn from and about HBCUs hopefully means that they recognize, and appreciate, the true value of HBCUs,” said USN Director of Diversity and Community Life Roderick White. “I am so proud to be a part of this amazing fair, which is geared towards bringing students and more than 16 institutions of higher learning together from around the country. It's more than just a fair, it is a celebration. All students, no matter where they attend high school, who want to attend college should have the opportunity to get informed about the admissions process, and we have a responsibility to assist in any way we can to make that a reality.”

Hosted by USN's Office of College Counseling and Office of Diversity & Community Life, this HBCU Fair was made possible with the support of MNPS and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Father Ryan High School and Franklin Road Academy sponsored the authors’ talk.

Click here to read a parent's perspective.

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USN Mission: 
University School of Nashville models the best educational practices. In an environment that represents the cultural and ethnic composition of Metropolitan Nashville, USN fosters each student’s intellectual, artistic, and athletic potential, valuing and inspiring integrity, creative expression, a love of learning, and the pursuit of excellence.