Reverse Integration: Centering HBCUs in the Fight for Educational Equality

University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change

60 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2020 Last revised: 29 Jul 2021

Date Written: September 1, 2020


School integration as a means of achieving educational equality has in many ways failed. Indeed, it is a great irony that the case most celebrated for the dismantling of our dual system of racialized education in America, Brown v. Board of Education, has wrought at best mixed results for true educational equality. One underutilized resource in the ongoing fight for educational equality is historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In part this oversight is attributable to the success of Brown and the ensuing strategy of pursuing educational equality predominantly through the integration of black students into white schools. Worse yet, Brown may be partly to blame for relegating HBCUs to the margins of our system of higher education despite HBCUs playing an outsized role in the education of black students from their origins in the nineteenth century right up to the present. The little-known data on the success of HBCUs in educating black students deserves greater attention.

This article surveys this data and then explores how and why HBCUs remain unparalleled in educating black (and especially first generation and low income) students. The article identifies a unique pedagogical model common among HBCUs and suggests this model offers key lessons as we continue in our quest to realize the full guarantee of educational equality promised in Brown. While HBCUs have been relegated to the periphery of higher education since the desegregation era, this article contends that they ought to reclaim their rightful place on the vanguard of higher education. By centering the experiences and contributions of HBCUs, we might finally realize what it takes to achieve true educational equality on behalf of black students. In the process we might transform the landscape of higher education for first-generation and low-income students as well, who represent a growing share of students served by all institutions of higher education.

Keywords: educational equality, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Hawkins, Stacy, Reverse Integration: Centering HBCUs in the Fight for Educational Equality (September 1, 2020). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change, Available at SSRN: or

Stacy Hawkins (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

217 N. Fifth Street
Camden, NJ 08102
United States

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