In October of 2018, my colleague, Dr. Janelle L. Williams and I were engaged in collecting data on Black students who were possibly influenced to apply to and attend historically Black colleges and universities due to the current social and political climate triggered by the election of the 45th president of the United States.
For this study, we traveled to four HBCUs and interviewed approximately 80 Black students, who were either a freshman or sophomore. Since completing this study, which was funded by the Association for Orientation, Retention, and Transition in Higher Education and the Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, we have been analyzing the data to present at conferences and to publish in peer-reviewed journals.
Given that the findings from our study have been so rich, we decided to highlight one student’s story from each HBCU we visited in Diverse Issues In Higher Education. The first student’s story showcased was Ayeisha Gipson, a transfer student at Grambling State University. Presently, however, we are highlighting Oladipo Adeuyan or “Dipo,” as his friends refer to him. Dipo is majoring in Biology at Morgan State University (MSU).
Dipo, whose parents came from Okota, Nigeria, has two sisters and a brother. One of his sisters is a student at Cornell University while another attends Towson University; his younger brother is still in high school. Dipo, whose parents attended college in Nigeria, described thinking intently about going to college, specifically an HBCU, during his senior year in high school. Specifically, he noted “ . . . I don’t think I actually got the interest and strong desire to go to college until my I want to say my senior year in high school. I always knew I was going to college. That was without a shadow of a doubt but my senior year in high school I just knew that college was going to be my next step and I was completely accepting that decision. I was willing and welcoming to the fact that I was about to spend my next 4 years of life at a university and namely an HBCU.”
Dipo shared that a mentor in high school, who actually attended Morgan State University (MSU), helped him to understand the cultural differences between HBCUs and predominantly White institutions (PWIs). He also became more familiar with HBCUs by watching television sitcoms, such as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Martin. While he applied to and was admitted to schools such as Emory, Howard, and Drexel, he decided to attend MSU, though it was not his first choice because it was only 30 minutes from his house and he wanted to expand his horizons. In total, Dipo acknowledged that he applied to seven schools, all of which he received offers of admissions, but with guidance from his high school mentor, prayer, and a full scholarship offer, he decided to attend MSU. To be clear, though Dipo reported receiving partial scholarships from the other schools in which he received letters of acceptance, the full scholarship from MSU was a determining factor in his attendance. He confessed that receiving a full scholarship was critical because while going through the college-search process, he felt financially insecure about how he was going to pay for college.
While Dipo did not understand why he was not offered a full scholarship from the other schools in which he applied, he explained, the scholarship was a sign it was meant for him to attend MSU. Specifically, he noted, “I think that my decision to Morgan happened at the exact time it was supposed to happen and everything happens for a reason. There was a reason why I didn’t get a full scholarship from all those other schools.” Since being enrolled at MSU, Dipo expressed that the culture has been very friendly, supportive, and inclusive. He also opined that he believes there is truly something special at MSU. In particular, he reflected: “The culture is super inclusive at Morgan. I think the culture at Morgan is very friendly and warm. It’s very engaging but I also want to add that all of those attributes and characteristics of the culture depends on who you decide to align yourself with. So I think that Morgan is going to be a great experience for anybody who allows it but that goes for any school but I believe about Morgan, there’s something truly special embedded at Morgan State University on the grounds of this campus that if you allow yourself to be immersed on the campus, you’re going to enjoy yourself. You’re going to have a life changing time.”
Part of what made attending MSU for Dipo so unique and special was the relationships he cultivated with his peers on campus and faculty. He explained by attending MSU, he gained “ . . . a whole new family, whole new Black family.” He elaborated, “So everybody is just very, very what’s the word, everybody prides themselves on community bonding. So that’s one thing that we have here at Morgan. You may be from PG, you may be from New York, you could be from Hawaii, you could be from Antarctica and if you’re a Black person it doesn’t matter because of the fact that you’re Black and I’m Black and we’re Black together then we have something that we can relate to to some degree. So just that familial feeling, it just makes everything 10 times better.”
Since he has been at MSU for a while, when asked if he would still agree that it is the best institution for him, Dipo replied with a resounding, “yes.” He indicated that MSU has provided him with enormous opportunities to help maximize his growth and development. He expressed, “I could write a dissertation and it probably still wouldn’t be enough to literally just capitalize upon all that Morgan has done for me.” He noted that he has grown tremendous as a result of being a student at MSU. He shared, “Morgan has completely molded me into the man that I am now. It’s just so, there is no experience like it. It’s absolutely beautiful. I just, I can’t even put it into words.”
Although Morgan State University was not Dipo’s first choice, with the offer of a full scholarship, he enrolled. As a student, he became engaged on campus and developed positive relationships with his faculty and peers. He also took advantage of co-curricular activities extended to him by the university. His engagement on campus helped to facilitate an unwavering commitment to MSU and allowed him to have a transformative campus experience. Dipo’s story is a powerful and important reminder about students making the most of their campus experience. Though MSU was not his first choice, it ended up being his best choice.
Dr. Robert T. Palmer is a chair and associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University. This interview was done as a part of a large national study on HBCU enrollment with Dr. Janelle L. Williams, who is associate dean at Widener University and a visiting scholar at the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. This is the second in a series of profile stories to appear in Diverse.