‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’: HBCU exchange program returns for second post-pandemic year

Dec. 10, 2023, 2:08 a.m.

As a high school senior, Taylor Hall ’25 hoped to attend a historically Black college and university (HBCU), following in the footsteps of her parents and grandmother. Her idea of the college experience, she said, was “the HBCU experience.” 

But when attending one of these institutions proved to be financially unfeasible, she knew she wanted to attend a school that at least had an exchange program with HBCUs.

Hall is now the first and only student to participate in Stanford’s exchange program since its hiatus over the pandemic. In August, she started at Spelman College, where she will spend her junior year.  

The Black Community Services Center opened applications for next year’s HBCU exchange program in November. The program provides undergraduates with the opportunity to study at an HBCU while still pursuing a Stanford degree.

Launched in 1978, the program allows students to spend up to a year studying at partner HBCUs — universities founded before 1964 whose principal aim is to educate Black Americans — and invites students from these institutions to study at Stanford. The program currently partners with Spelman College, Morehouse College and Howard University.

The number of students accepted to the program is dependent on bed space, according to Rosalind Conerly, the associate dean and Karr family director of the Black Community Services Center. Participating students are guaranteed housing at the partner schools.

Hall described her experience at Spelman as “very, very different in all the best ways possible.”

Hall said attending the college has allowed her to explore herself and who she wants to be, both within and outside of academics. With a course load including classes that center Blackness, like “Afrofuturism” and “Data in the African Diaspora,” she said she feels that she can speak freely and unapologetically about her experiences as a Black woman.

“It really allows you to take in what you are learning in relation to yourself, as well as in relation to whatever the course values are,” Hall said.

'Once in a lifetime opportunity': HBCU exchange program returns for second post-pandemic year
Hall was inducted into the Spelman College chapter of the National Council of Negro Woman (NCNW), an organization seeking to empower women of African descent and their communities. (Courtesy of Taylor Hall)

Kayla Patterson M.S. ’24, the graduate student scholar in residence at the Black Community Services Center who helps manage the program, echoed Hall’s appreciation for HBCUs’ unique traditions.

“There’s a lot of history that goes into all HBCUs, and I just feel like it’s a really great way for students at Stanford to really engage with that history as well as just look at things from a Black lens,” said Patterson, who graduated from Hampton University, a HBCU.

Hall said she finds the sisterhood at Spelman to be invaluable. Regardless of how students relate to each other or feel about one another, they support and uplift each other as sisters since they all feel connected in their experience attending Spelman, she said.

“I also feel like I’ve had people just express genuine love for you as a person that I don’t always feel like I felt” at Stanford, Hall said.

Hall has loved learning and participating in traditions at HBCUs like Spelman, from pageant season to weekly markets showcasing Black-owned businesses to “Fried Chicken Wednesdays,” where the dining hall serves the soul food she missed at Stanford.

Her first HBCU homecoming — a weeklong celebration with parties, fashion shows, networking events and more — changed her life, she said.

“It changed my perspective on how I want to go through college,” Hall said. “It really made me realize college is about the connections you are making. It’s about how you feel and about the clarity that you want to get moving forward.”

Conerly said many Black students might not choose majors like African and African American Studies but still “want that experience of having a Black lens to the courses that they’re taking. And not just the courses, but also just the campus life.” 

“I know a lot of times when I talk to admissions and talk to prospective students, sometimes Black students are choosing between a PWI and an HBCU,” Conerly said.

For students on the fence about applying, Hall emphasized the program’s value.

“It truly is a once in a lifetime program, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said.

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