A small group of visited the campus of the first Black institution that developed into what we call HBCUs. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is located outside of Philadelphia on land donated over a century ago by a farmer named Cheyney. Settled in the small town of Chester, Cheyney is a quiet place surrounded by farm land and a growing housing development.
The campus is lined with light posts waving the banners of famous Cheyney alumni like Ed Bradley and former leaders of the institution. Walking the paved walkways on a self-guided tour, my colleagues and I stopped in the student center first and had lunch in the cafeteria. Inside we met students from Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylavania who happily talked about their majors and reasons for attending Cheyney. Interestingly, the students we spoke with had both transferred in to the university from other colleges and were eager to take full advantage of the HBCU experience. After eating, we looked around the cafeteria at the large pictures of Black people dawning the walls and the student feedback/staff response forms posted near entrance. It was great to see how open the university was to student feedback and how they posted the anonymous feedback with signed responses from the staff that directly addressed the students’ questions and comments.
Leaving the dining hall, The Yard was beginning to fill with the smells, sights, and sounds of student activity. A couple of student organizations were barbequing at their respective plots, one playing music from a portable sound system and another using the system from a car pulled up to the yard. Beyond the bustle outside the modern campus center, the campus was quiet and distinctly historic. Most of the buildings near the yard were lined with stone resembling cottages of an earlier era. Further toward the outskirts of the campus, bricked academic buildings took on a more modern feel, and the sciences building stood out most of all with its aluminum casing, naturally filtered rainwater pond, and new greenhouse.
My crew ended the tour at the library. The main floor of the library featured student art, proclamations of Cheyney’s historic founding and its impact on higher education, as well as archival photos of early 19th century classes with some of Cheyney’s first students. Though it was a Sunday afternoon, there was a significant number of students in the library working on papers and reading. Upon leaving the library we marveled at the new residence center that was nearly the largest structure on campus, took pictures of our favorite spaces, and left the historic campus with a greater feeling of HBCU love and heritage.
It was a good visit made even better by the fact that I was able to share it with my colleagues from the AERA Conference 2014, one of which had never toured an HBCU campus. How appropriate for the first HBCU campus tour to be of the first HBCU.
Carl Darnell – April 8, 2014
Insert pictures courtesy of Casta Guillome, Jeremy Snipes, and Carl Darnell
For more information about Cheyney, visit their website www.cheyney.com