My legacy at Hampton goes back generations
Both my grandmothers and mother and father attended the school by the sea
Whitney Bronson is a senior at Hampton University and one of six Rhoden Fellows from historically black colleges and universities participating in a yearlong internship with The Undefeated.
Until I attended Hampton University, “legacy” was a word I did not truly understand. I knew that my parents met at Hampton, but I had no idea of the impact this historic institution has had on my family for three generations.
The Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications is the reason I decided to enroll at Hampton. The only other school in the country that had a journalism school named for the E.W. Scripps Co. is the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. After attending a summer program there, I knew Ohio University was not the school for me.
Although my grandmothers, parents and eight aunts and uncles attended Hampton, my parents never talked about Hampton a lot when I was younger. When I was in elementary school, they would joke every now and then that I would attend, but I was defiant that I would not go to my parents’ alma mater because I didn’t want to go where most of my family had gone to school.
Then I set foot on Hampton University’s campus my junior year of high school for High School Day. I was drawn to the water, the beauty of the campus and the different shades of black and brown students who came from all types of backgrounds. After touring the school of journalism and communications, I knew Hampton was the school for me.
During my freshman year, I learned more about my family’s tradition of attending Hampton. My mother’s mother, Christine Freeman, went to Hampton Institute from 1957-1959 after receiving a scholarship in home economics. Unfortunately, her parents could not afford to send her back, so she returned home and got married in 1960, becoming Christine Smith. Then she resumed her education, took night classes at Clark College in 1975 and received a degree in elementary education in 1976. Despite graduating from elsewhere, Smith sent two of her three kids to Hampton. My mother graduated with a degree in business management in 1988 and her brother graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1992.
Smith believed Hampton was a wonderful place to learn and meet people of different backgrounds. She was ecstatic when she found out that I decided to attend her first college choice.
“I thought it was a wonderful idea for you to attend Hampton. To go to a black institution because your grandmother and your mother went and they all received good educations and experiences, I knew that if you went, you would experience the same thing,” said Smith.
My father’s mother, Barbara Sue Dobbins, attended Hampton Institute from 1951-1955 and stayed in the same freshman dorm that I did, Kennedy Hall. Realizing that my grandmother and I stayed in the same dorm 65 years apart astonished me because we both started our adult journeys in the same building that is still standing today. She majored in food and nutrition and went to Hampton because her older brother, Anderson Dobbins, was already there majoring in electrical engineering. They both graduated in 1955. Eventually Grandmother Dobbins married Fred Bronson and became Barbara Bronson. They sent five of their six kids to Hampton from 1980-1992. Their children majored in varying disciplines involving the sciences.
Due to her educational and personal experiences, grandmother Bronson decided to send her children to her alma mater and was proud of my decision to attend as well. “I was very pleased that you would decide to go there. I knew it was a good school and that you would do well,” said my grandmother. Despite currently dealing with Alzheimer’s, my grandmother consistently remembers Hampton and whenever I mention my studies there, her face lights up and she says, “I know you just love it there.”
I firmly believe that something always drew me to Hampton. Even though I had no idea of the depth of my family history at the school while applying to colleges, I still somehow knew it was the perfect school for me. As soon as I saw the Hampton waterfront, I turned to my mom and told her, “this feels like home.” I owe everything to my grandmothers as they paved the way. All of my family members proceeded to receive master’s degrees and doctorates after attending Hampton and have successful careers in medicine and education.
My grandmothers’ emphasis on education helped my parents and their siblings receive the best studies possible in order for them to achieve success. As for me, I’m the third-oldest grandchild on both sides of my family, with 11 grandchildren on my father’s side and seven grandchildren on my mother’s side. While I am the only grandchild to enroll at Hampton thus far, I hope to set an example for my younger cousins and siblings. This university means a lot to me, as it has helped me grow as a person and a professional. But even more so, I’ve seen how much my family has been positively affected by their experiences at our home by the sea, which started with the matriarchs.
Each time I speak to both of my grandmothers, they express how proud they are of me. I know they would be proud even if I had not attended Hampton, but to be at the institution that has influenced the success of my family makes me proud to continue the legacy grandmother Bronson and grandmother Smith started.
This year, it will be Grandmother Bronson’s 65th anniversary and if Grandmother Smith had graduated, it would be her 60th anniversary. My graduation in May will be very special this year, having all of the Hampton alumni on both sides of my family in Hampton, Virginia. I will graduate from the institution that started it all for my family. Now, I will continue that legacy and start my own.