Touring the 'black college' circuit

Selling a black college to high school students -- whether they are country bumpkins from the rural South or hard-bitten young people from Northern big-city ghettos -- is a hefty job for admissions officers from the nation's 105 "historically black" colleges.

"I'm in college in a place I never dreamed of even visiting," said New Yorker Sasha Callendar, a freshman at Paine College in Augusta, Ga. "I was out of high school hitting the streets for three years before making up my mind to try the college route down South."

Miss Callendar was among a group of smiling students at Paine who greeted 42 black high school seniors and juniors from Boston.Paine College was one of 14 black campuses between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., which these Bostonians targeted for an eight-day tour in late February.

Although the visiting teen-agers enjoyed the lavish welcome they received at Paine, they struggled with one though: How does Paine stack up as a college?

Hosting a busload of college-bound black New Englanders is a rare occasion for any black college. But officials and students of the 14 institutions opened their campuses aware that some of the visitors were skeptical about what the colleges had to offer.

The Bostonians did seem pleased with one aspect of the Southern campuses -- a "welcome" atmosphere that made them feel at home.

"For most of these youngsters this was their first experience with black colleges," said Janice Withrow, education director of the Roxbury-North Dorchester Area Planning Action Council (APAC) which cosponsored the tour.

"Nevertheless, they took our long bus ride to find alternatives to white colleges around Boston," chimed in Dr. Thomas Payne, pastor of First Church in Roxbury, the tour's other cosponsor. "They know that many black students attending Boston-area white colleges are upset by their experiences. We offered them another choice."

The visitors always asked students why they chose a black college.Two coeds from Columbus, Ga., Carla R. Crimes and Robin Crittenden, expressed their thoughts:

"I wanted to learn my basics at a black college where the people would be interested in me and my future," said Miss Crimes. "The Paine recruiter sold me on the gospel choir, the concert choir, and the track team. I chose Paine."

Although she likes the intimacy and religious atmosphere of Paine, Miss Crittenden opts for more activities. "President Scott has told us we can work to get a football team and a band on campus," she said. "I plan to do my part. And the people here show a personal interest in me."

At Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., edwin Sumpter, a transfer student from Emerson College in Boston, said, "My two sisters took the black college tour last year and talked me into going to Smith. The faculty here gives me personal attention. The people in Charlotte sugarcoated me with Southern hospitality at Thanksgiving, and I am learning here."

Two coeds from Boston, Wanda Anderson and Nicole Harrison, said life at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., is "too quiet" after growing up in Boston, but they are glad to be attending a black college.

Nevertheless, the attitude among young blacks that education at colleges like Paine might not be on par with other schools is an underlying challenge to every black school -- Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta and Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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