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Expanding the College Horizon: The HBCU Experience

Director of Equity and Inclusion Jaci Nelson & Director of Alumni Relations Kaelen Nazzaro
“Choosing a college is a very personal decision.” 

This insightful comment was shared as part of a compelling alumni reflection montage in The HBCU Experience (historically black colleges and universities), St. Luke’s collaborative event with RIISE and HBCU-Yes!

Hosted in the Forese Fireplace Commons on Jan. 8, The HBCU Experience was a first-of-its-kind opportunity for the St. Luke’s community to invite students, families, and administrators from across the country into a dynamic fireside chat focused on the history and significance of HBCUs. By offering both an in-person and livestreamed experience, our primary objective was to enhance and expand the college search process for scholars interested in immersing themselves in the rich history and legacy of HBCUs. 

Throughout the evening, we heard from many voices, including HBCU and St. Luke's alumni Sarah Bryant '20, Madison Sead '19, Shannon Smith '16, and Joe Williams '10; St. Luke's alumni parent and HBCU-Yes! Founder Adrian Bryant; Gina Parker Collins, RIISE's founder, and “The Black Families Guide to College Admissions” co-authors Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown. Each contributor had wisdom and a thoughtful perspective, contributing to a fruitful discussion about the unique opportunities, similarities, and differences between HBCUs and predominately white institutions (PWIs). 

As was articulated by several alumni, the cultural immersion and opportunity to be taught by and alongside people who more closely reflect your lived experiences has a powerful impact on one’s “Big Self.” For young people to find their way and show up/express the most confident, curious, and capable versions of themselves, they need to know that the adults around them and the learning environments they find themselves in are intentionally affirming, caring, and nurturing. Then and only then can they step into their “Big Self.” 

For young people of color, especially those coming out of independent schools or any other PWI, having the chance to be in the majority is a rare opportunity to release the weight of an often invisible load of self-consciousness, social isolation, and cultural dissonance. Ultimately, the message conveyed at The HBCU Experience was that choosing a college is indeed a very personal choice, and the horizon of opportunity is vast.

From inception, we envisioned this event as a highly collaborative and community-expanding platform to bring together St. Luke’s Office of Equity & Inclusion, Alumni Relations, and an in-house multimedia specialist from the Technology Department, along with our RIISE community network, including Rye Country Day School, Westover School, Horace Mann School, and Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Thanks to our collective efforts, we were able to offer bespoke guidance to parents, caregivers, and students, as well as those involved in supporting the college search process and those responsible for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We had over seventy participants between those tuning in from various parts of the country and those gathered in the Fireplace commons, and the amount of positive feedback has been overwhelming. Immediately following the event, we received a note of thanks and learned that one school went so far as to host a “watch party” with students and members of their college and DEI teams. Their message affirmed the impact and reach this evening had on our greater community. To quote Miss Porter’s Dean of College Counseling, who attended The HBCU Experience, this event "filled a gap in our programming that we will continue to address moving forward." 

Thank you to everyone who made this night possible.  For additional resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion, please visit our website.

See below for the recording of the livestream highlights.

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St. Luke’s School is a secular (non-religious), private school in New Canaan, CT for grades 5 through 12 serving over 35 towns in Connecticut and New York. Our exceptional academics and diverse co-educational community foster students’ intellectual and ethical development and prepare them for top colleges. St. Luke’s Center for Leadership builds the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.