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“They Were Built for Us”: Four 2Utes Share Their Unique HBCU Experience for Homecoming

Written by Black Engagement Network (BNet) on Oct 19, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Life at 2U

Clockwise from left: Cressida Leonard, Langston Brown, Ty Bennett, and Marietta Watts

For anyone who’s ever attended a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), you know how unique, meaningful, and powerful the experience is. During Homecoming season—which for each HBCU is typically a weeklong series of events in October—that’s our chance to not only unite or reunite with classmates and cheer on our alma mater at the football game, but also come together to celebrate our shared history, honor the legacy of those who paved the way before us, and just soak up the love all around.

In the Black Engagement Network (BNet), 2U’s business resource network for Black employees and allies, we have several HBCU graduates within our membership ranks. In the spirit of Homecoming season, we asked four of them to share what made their HBCU experience so special, and how it has impacted their worldview and work at 2U today. Read on for enlightening perspectives from VP of Compliance and Morgan State University alum Marietta Watts, Senior Email Marketing Specialist and Morehouse College alum Langston Brown, Student Success Advisor II and Norfolk State University alum Cressida Leonard, and Manager of Career Experience and Bowie State University alum Ty Bennett.

Norfolk State University alum Cressida Leonard
Why did you decide to go to an HBCU?

Marietta Watts (MW): I wanted to study, learn, and develop from professors (and peers) who could relate to my background and life experiences. I knew that HBCUs had a special way of cultivating some of the best and brightest learners. My mother is a proud alum of Tennessee State University, which is also an HBCU. She had an amazing college experience. I wanted the same kind of experience that she had. Morgan allowed me to fulfill that dream. Undergrad was amazing!

Langston Brown (LB): I didn't know I wanted to go to an HBCU when I started the college application process. The more research I did, videos I watched, and people I spoke to, the more I fell in love with Morehouse and what it stands for.

Cressida Leonard (CL): Norfolk State is a tradition in my family. All of my aunts went there for both undergrad and graduate school. Even though I went to a predominantly white institution (PWI) for undergrad, I always loved the camaraderie of an HBCU. You feel like you're at home and everyone is family. Everyone looks like you, and it's so much talent, wisdom, love, and determination.

Ty Bennett (TB): I wanted to experience a different type of culture and community than I did in high school. I went to a Bowie State Homecoming when I was in 11th or 12th grade and loved it. I applied to all HBCUs and received a full scholarship to Bowie. I wanted to be a teacher, and Bowie is well-known for its education program.

Morehouse College alum Langston Brown
How would you describe the impact your HBCU experience had on you?

MW: I had a holistic college experience that was both academically sound and culturally enriching. My professors pushed me to strive for excellence and ensured that I had an understanding and appreciation for African American history. Instead of being ashamed of the past, I learned to celebrate the achievements of my ancestors. The lessons I learned at Morgan inspired me to serve my family, my church, and my community; to be an example for those coming behind me; and to work hard at home and at 2U.

LB: Morehouse is the only all-male HBCU in the U.S., so there’s an immediate brotherhood among students and alumni. The ultimate goal is becoming a Morehouse man, “one who is widely, broadly educated.” We’re taught how Black men will be perceived in the corporate world and how to overcome obstacles we may face. My first week at Morehouse, the college’s president presented “the five wells”: well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed, and well-balanced. They’ve guided me to be a better leader and understand how powerful Black men truly are.

CL: HBCUs are important. They were built for “US”—and by us, I mean Black people—to show we can do anything we set our minds to. The step shows, campus life, and Greek life were everything to me. The experience helped me see that I mean something as a Black woman, and an educated Black woman at that. I felt comfortable asking certain questions within the classroom. I felt honored to be around so many intelligent Black men and women. And with the help of my mentors, I was able to work as a student success advisor at a community college. That’s how I knew I wanted to remain in higher education.

TB: There was definitely a sense of community at Bowie. I was able to establish lasting relationships with fellow classmates, even if they weren’t in my program. My professors knew who I was, and I was able to go to them for support when needed. Overall, people really looked out for each other. It helped me appreciate and recognize the importance of having a deep-rooted culture.

Morgan State University alum Marietta Watts
How do you keep your HBCU pride going strong during Homecoming season and throughout the year?

MW: My husband and I are both proud alumni of Morgan. We enjoy participating in Homecoming activities as often as possible. We also support the university by giving back financially and by mentoring other Morgan alumni. In fact, one of our current alumni-mentees is now a 2Ute!

LB: Homecoming season was by far my favorite time of the year because it always fell on my birthday. I’ve been to quite a few Homecomings since I became an alum. “Spelhouse” Homecoming (Spelman + Morehouse) is hands-down the best of them all—and I’m not hearing otherwise! LOL. I usually have some type of Morehouse gear on throughout the week, and I’m constantly encouraging family and friends to send their sons to Morehouse.

CL: I keep my HBCU pride by just reppin’ my school. I wear t-shirts, attend the alumni balls, and give back to the school. #NYTHC is the hashtag for “Not Your Typical Homecoming” and it’s unique to NSU. You have to come to an NSU Homecoming to understand what I mean. But if you’ve never been to any HBCU Homecoming, do yourself a favor and attend. There’s nothing like it!

TB: I still have many friends from Bowie and we get together throughout the year. I attended a Homecoming event two weeks ago and met some alumni who graduated in 1965. To see them come back all these years later gave me a sense of pride for being a part of the same legacy.

Bowie State University alum Ty Bennett
How are you applying your HBCU experience to supporting student and partner success at 2U?

MW: With my work in compliance, my team and I support all program launches that fall within the degree segment of our company. As such, I’ve had the opportunity to support the program launches for both Howard and Morehouse.

LB: I currently work with Morehouse, sending out and analyzing their email campaigns. I also participate in forums and projects (like this article!) that aim to shine a light into the HBCU experience.

CL: In my student success advisor calls, I bring up where I went to school all the time with students. We have a lot more students of color coming into 2U-powered programs. They get so excited when they find out they have an advisor of color. “I’m so glad we’re paired!” they say. “I know you’ll get me and understand.” It makes me feel good to hear that.

TB: I try to find ways to address student concerns by providing resources and making them feel heard. I may not have all the answers, but I try to help students know we’re here to support them through their journey, just like I felt supported at Bowie.

What would you say is the ultimate value of going to an HBCU?

MW: It gives you cultural awareness, confidence, pride, resilience, and determination.

LB: It’s like being in Black History Month every day of the year. There’s so much about our history that is untold and forgotten. It’s a nurturing environment where you don't have to think about being the minority for once—a “mini utopia” that gives students a break from the pressures of being Black.

CL: It’s the camaraderie—the way you feel when you walk on campus or speak with someone who looks just like you. There’s nothing like that feeling of love and compassion, of being part of a family you’ll always have.

TB: It’s like being part of a lifelong sorority or fraternity. Each HBCU has its own history, traditions, and sense of school pride, but as an HBCU alum, I’m part of an even larger network. There are certain aspects of college that only other HBCU students can relate to, no matter what school they attended. Because of that, we’re a unique community.

What advice or insight would you give other HBCU graduates considering a career with 2U?

MW: Go for it! You have everything it takes to succeed.

LB: Continue to be yourself and serve as an example.

CL: Bring the skills and insight we all know you have. Don’t be afraid of who you are. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Come to a company that’s working to make sure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a part of your daily work environment.

TB: I highly encourage HBCU graduates to consider 2U. There are many ways to engage with different affinity groups and build relationships with people from all over the world. The culture at 2U creates opportunities for people to elevate their backgrounds, so that we can all learn from each other.


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