EDITOR’S NOTE - Among the 3,000 colleges in the United Sta
EDITOR’S NOTE - Among the 3,000 colleges in the United States are little known gems offering excellent educations in unusual settings. Part II of a three-part series describes Hampton University, a school familiar to blacks for 117 years, but one that now is trying a bold new step: attracting more whites.
HAMPTON, Va. (AP) _ When Booker T. Washington wanted to attend Hampton Institute more than a century ago, he was asked to prove he had ″character″ by sweeping the school’s floors.
When he was done, Hampton’s principal tested the floor with her handkerchief and couldn’t raise a speck of dust. Thus did Hampton’s most illustrious alumnus gain admission to the class of 1875.
Today a solid high school record goes farther than a clean-swept floor. But strength of character and strict, old-fashioned values remain hallmarks of this school founded by a white Union general in 1868 to educate newly freed slaves.
In its earliest days, classes often were held under the 98-foot-wide branches of Emancipation Oak, a campus landmark designated one of the world’s 10 greatest trees by the National Geographic Society.
Today this picturesque, 200-acre campus on the banks of the Hampton River is the nation’s wealthiest private, historically black institution. It is also one of the best.
But that isn’t good enough for William Harvey, Hampton’s self-described ″no-nonsense″ president since 1978.
‘We want to be ‘the best’ period,″ he said. Right up there, say, with predominantly white liberal arts schools of similar size and academic aims like Oberlin, Amherst, Wesleyan.
To reach that goal, Harvey has been leading Hampton in bold new directions.
His latest and boldest move: recruiting more white students.
Harvey’s clearest successes have been financial. Hampton has boosted its endowment tenfold to nearly $50 million in just six years, thanks largely to Harvey’s well-cultivated ties to large corporate boards and to the Reagan administration.
The money means mass media students practice with $30,000 television cameras, and majors in the history of jazz have classrooms equipped with baby grand pianos.
Three Fortune 500 chairmen sit on the school’s board of trustees, as does Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel Pierce. Partly due to these connections, Hampton next fall will be licensed by the federal government to train air traffic controllers.
The school changed its name last summer from Hampton Institute to Hampton University to signal its growing academic diversity.
Already rigorous, Hampton is getting tougher academically. A ″writing- across -the-curriculum″ program means more term papers in all subjects.
Next fall, the school will try out a basic skills test on math, reading and writing which, if successful, may become a graduation requirement.
″Hampton simply will not graduate students who are not proficient in language skills,″ said Ernestine Robinson, head of the English department.
The school is also competing harder for top high school students. Hampton began awarding ″merit scholarships″ to top prospects six years ago.
The scholarships have helped pull average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of entering freshmen up 101 points since 1979 to a combined 833 on the verbal and math sections - 118 points above the 1984 national average for blacks, but 64 below the national average for all races.
Hampton this spring is trying to attract more white students. The eventual aim, said Harvey, is to have 5,000 students, about 15 percent to 20 percent white. Currently, only 4 percent of the approximately 4,200 students are white.
The few whites now enrolled are mostly from Virginia, attracted mainly by Hampton’s strong nursing, architecture and marine biology programs.
White students say they fit in here, but not without some adjustments.
″You have to be the kind of person who can deal with a lot of different personalities. But people have been very receptive to me. They have been in the position I’m now in,″ said Daniel Mixdorf, a 21-year-old management major from Panama City, Fla., who chose Hampton because of its strong ROTC program.
″I was raised in a traditional WASP suburb. I really didn’t grow up with a lot of prejudice,″ said Laura Bryant, a nurse in Virginia who studied at Hampton in 1976-80 and 1982-84. ″But it was real strange (at Hampton). I felt I was in another country. No one ever did anything unkind or racial or anything like that. But you have to realize that for the first time in your life, you’re going to be the minority. And for most of us, that’s a good experience.″
Most seem not to mind the prospect of more white students. But they also want to preserve the black heritage that attracted them to Hampton in the first place.
A stroll across campus affords an almost unparalleled snapshot of black cultural history. Buildings are named for Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. DuBois, an early 20th century educator and philosopher. The campus museum displays Harlem Renaissance art as well as other African-American, American Indian and Pacific artifacts.
Lisa Turner, a 21-year old senior from West Newton, Mass., said she came to Hampton because she felt that ″something was missing″ in her predominantly white early school years.
″I always wondered if what I was achieving was because I was black, or because I was Lisa Turner,″ she said.
″I came here because this place puts out strong black leaders,″ said Kirk Weems, a sophomore from Montclair, N.J. ″This is a place for black students.″
Mrs. Robinson, the English department head, came to Hampton three years ago from predominantly white schools. ″Our students need to see people of their own race in positions of responsibility, performing in a truly professional manner.″
Black or white, students seem to cling to conventional middle-class values. Politeness, the need to belong and stiff social restrictions permeate campus life.
Politically and socially, Hampton is a ″much more conservative place today″ than it was a decade ago, said Robert D. Bonner, dean of the School of Pure and Applied Sciences who has been at Hampton for 21 years.
″You get a feeling of constraint and decorum. God forbid, there are probably Republicans here,″ said Mrs. Bryant.
The list of rules governing behavior is long:
Lonely? Men may visit women in dorms from 7 p.m. to midnight, Fridays through Sundays only.
Thirsty? The student union is the only place on campus for drinking - ever. Only beer is served, and even that is expected to end this summer when Virginia’s legal drinking age goes up to 21.
Planning a party? You’ll need to fill out forms, in triplicate, and have them approved by the necessary officials. That also goes for putting up signs or passing out fliers on campus.
Still, rules don’t come as a shock to most students here, many of whom are products of private and parochial schools. Indeed for many freshmen, Hampton is a first taste of comparative freedom.
Said Ms. Turner, who was elected this year’s Miss Hampton: ″The rules here are strict. But the world outside has a lot of rules.″