‘black-ish’ Nailed Why Historically Black Colleges Are Anything But Obsolete In 2018

Byron Cohen/ABC

Spoilers for the April 3 episode. Another Johnson kid is headed to college, and just like Zoey, Junior makes a college decision on black-ish that the audience may not have seen coming. Bow is thrilled when Junior is accepted into Stanford — an impressive academic achievement — but Dre decides that he'd prefer to see Junior attend his alma mater, Howard University, because it was such a positive experience for him to attend a historically black college. And, to his dad's surprise, Junior comes to love Howard for similar reasons to Dre's.

Bow wants her kid to choose the "best" school he's been accepted to, but as Dre points out, that doesn't always have to mean a predominantly white institution like Stanford or Brown (Bow's alma mater). And while Junior is infinitely more excited to get a fat envelope from Stanford than Brown, their visit changes his mind. It represents more than just a good school. It's an opportunity for Junior to become a part of a community of black students from a variety of backgrounds. Only six percent of undergraduate Stanford students are black, as opposed to Howard, which still has a majority black population of students.

Despite his actions earlier in the episode, choosing Howard actually makes a lot of sense for the character. Junior made a similar choice to attend a diverse public school after being kicked out of his fancy private school over a misunderstanding. And this certainly isn't the first time Dre's had a big freakout over a decision that's not entirely his to make. But here, he has a great point: historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) aren't inherently less than their white counterparts. And they have a profound history. Howard just celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017. It was founded in 1867, just two years after the ratification of the thirteenth amendment, which ended the institution of slavery in the United States.

As The New Republic points out, historically, the scholarship used to justify slavery often came from universities, and some of the money used to found America's earliest institutions of higher learning were paid for and in some cases, built by slave labor. And until landmark court cases in the 1960s, segregation forcibly kept black students from attending white schools. The publication also notes that "quota systems" were put in place later to limit the number of black students admitted to even desegregated schools. Howard University provided an academic setting where black students were not excluded on the basis of their race, as Dre explains.

But it's about more than just Dre wanting to stand up for his love of HBCUs in general, or Howard University specifically — given he's totally out of place among the serious, studious kids that Junior instantly clicks with. Dre's passion is also about Howard being a legacy that black scholars can pass down to one another. According to Pew Research, a smaller percentage of black students were attending HBCUs in 2015 than ever before, now that exclusionary policies don't keep them from attending predominantly white institutions. (Which is obviously a good thing. A student was even admitted to Stanford University in 2017 after writing "Black Lives Matter" dozens of times as his response to an essay question, per CNN.) But the choice to attend an HBCU is still an empowering one for Junior.

Even with his nerdy pursuits and love of some stereotypically "white" things (like Elvis Costello), Junior is still proud to be black. Visiting Howard makes him feel represented and invigorated by the diversity within his race, as a black teenager who's grown up in a mostly white neighborhood. Dre warns him that it can be hard to "re-assimilate" after graduation, especially given that a lot of white people may make assumptions about the academic quality of Howard when compared to Stanford. But Junior acknowledges that to him, it's worth it. And black-ish makes a good argument for keeping this powerful tradition alive.