A Suggestion for Improving HBCU Leadership: Co-Presidents (yes, really)


Karen Gross

There has been no shortage of media coverage of the challenges of filling leadership positions and enabling quality presidents at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Not only are there abundant presidential openings at HBCUs but the tenure of HBCU presidents is shorter than that of presidents at non-HBCU institutions (the terms of which are also shortening as half the presidents report that they plan to serve for less than five years).

The departure of President John Wilson at Morehouse, one of the best-known HBCUs, was a wakeup call for me and perhaps many others about the HBCU leadership complexities. Recognizing these difficult issues, the Thurgood Marshall Fund helped form a search firm to help remediate these issues. The appointment of Ruth Simmons as the permanent, not interim President of Prairie View A&M University, sends a different link of signal, suggesting for me the possibility that more “retired” presidents will consider giving back, including to HBCUs, as their careers wind down.

Make no mistake about this: leading a college or university of any sort in today’s world is a serious challenge and the job is getting harder not easier with the passage of time. The challenges are wide-ranging from fund and friend-raising to quests for academic excellence and its quality measurement to developing a healthy culture on campus without sexual assault and harassment to access and financial support for students who are not from wealthy families or elite high schools and prep schools. Add to all this the problems that arise in athletics, running an art (and other) museums (and their collections), dealing with deferred maintenance and wrestling with the parameters of free speech.

And, we have a federal government that is challenging the role and importance of a college degree, a government that is also forcing us to re-think institutional finance due to changes in the tax laws that impact many while reflecting deeply on notions of truth and power as well as civility, cooperation, and collaboration. Not all states are exactly higher education aficionados either.

Perhaps this is why there is even a recent book with the frightening title: Presidencies Derailed.

But, leaders of HBCU face added challenges (recognizing that these institutions are quite different each from the other): some of these institutions are small in size (a threat in an of itself), they have relatively small size of endowments, they have long serving boards with well-known proclivities (not all positive) and face the particular needs and preparation of their students, many of whom hail from high schools that are suboptimal.

For me, the students attending HBCUs are the very students we want and need to educate well. Indeed, these institutions create opportunities for a myriad of students who otherwise might not progress to college. And, for those students for whom HBCUs are their institution of first choice, we need institutions with stable leadership, doors to opportunity and quality education that will enable their graduates to enter the workforce success. (How students find out about and enroll at HBCUs is another set of issues, although beyond the scope of this piece.)

Here’s an idea to consider to improve leadership at HBCUs: co-presidencies.

Recognizing that this approach (about which I have been writing with some frequency) is filled with risk, it also offers numerous benefits. I think some (note the word “some” not “all”) HBCUs could benefit greatly from co-presidencies. Here’s why.

We shouldn’t underestimate the price institutions pay – literally and figuratively – for failed presidencies and failed searches. And, the rush of recent resignations of longer serving presidents is also not exactly a sign of leadership good health. And, calls for resignation, even if not realized immediately, are institutionally disruptive.

So, why not consider a solution that has been tried outside academe. For example, co-presidencies are increasingly common in business. In late 2017, Apollo Global Management LP became the most recent example. Decades ago now, the GSE at Harvard had co-academic deans. And, within the academic sphere, there are several instances of Interim Co-Presidents.

I could detail the risks of co-presidencies but people surely can imagine those with little effort. (Just picture parents fighting over childrearing approaches in theory and practice.) What’s harder is to see the benefits and demonstrate that is some not all situations a co-presidency makes extraordinary sense. And, those critiquing my idea misstate that I mean for co-presidencies to be appointed at every institution. Wrong. That is not what I am saying; nor would such appointment necessarily work. Knowing when they might work within an institution’s needs, culture, structure, challenges, and history is key.

Instead of thinking about co-presidents like parents or conductors of an orchestra (a common analogy used when thinking about leadership generally and leading an educational institution with its multiple interests (sections) in particular), ponder surgical teams — two humans as opposed to a human surgeon and a robotic president (something even I am not suggesting at colleges and universities). Yes, there used to be a lead-surgeon in most surgeries but in many of today’s complex medical situations, different established attending surgeons work together on different body parts and body systems as co-surgeons. They are partners in ensuring the well-being of their patients,

Surgeons may fight on television and perhaps in an occasional OR suite. But, were I a guessing person, good surgeons learn to work together and prefer working with fellow surgeons and anesthesiologists and nurses they know. Recent studies suggest some noticeable benefits of co-surgeries (with two attending physicians not one lead surgeon and one resident) although the literature is still not robust. And let’s not ask about the complexities of the billing and insurance coverage issues in these contexts.

While some surgeon decisions are grand in size and impact, it is not as if every decision is one with massive consequences. Small decisions are delegated all the time on campuses. The big strategic decisions are usually ones that require both time and reflection and often require Board input among other groups; two people can do that as well or perhaps better than one person. And, if there is an emergency or a disaster and an immediate decision must be decided, perhaps the co-presidents could agree with the Board ahead of time as to who makes that call or the responsible person could change from month to month or year to year.

And, if there were to be consideration of co-presidents, they would have to be interviewed both together and separately. I can see interview teams asking each possible co-president to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of his/her counterpart. And there would need to be opportunities to see them engaging with each other and with others including faculty, staff, and students. Trustees too.

And, in the context of HBCUs, might it be possible for HBCUs to consider a non-minority candidate as part of a co-presidential team? Don’t panic here; I am not suggesting stodgy white men as co-presidents. I can hear the hue and cry: the white president would dominate and worse, not survive.

Perhaps the co-president candidate is someone of a different gender, from a different ethnicity or who lived in poverty (white intergenerational poverty) or suffered abuse or toxic stress or a high ACE score. To personalize this, as I detail in my book Breakaway Learners, those who have been traumatized have skillsets that can make them very able leaders, including at and perhaps most particularly at HBCUs given the students that are enrolled.

So, how would one come up with individuals who could be co-presidents? I think we’d need to change the paradigm for how presidents are identified and selected. I also think there would have to be a movement, a shift, in how the hiring is done, a response to the realities of the jobs college/university presidents face. To be clear, I am not suggesting a matching like in the television shows “Married at First Sight” or “The Bachelor.”

I can think of a half-dozen people right now with whom I would and could happily serve as a co-president (were I ever to consider another presidency, another issue altogether).

Here are two examples:

I can think of a person who has been a law school administrator who went to the same college as I did, decades earlier. She is smart and thoughtful and remarkably organized. We have worked on projects together (not in the same institution). We have read each other’s work. We have shared ideas about education and life. We have discussed faculty development. For the record, she is a minority.

Then, there is an individual with whom I have worked who heads up diversity programs and who has been a vice-president at a larger institution. He grew up in Puerto Rico (so we both speak Spanish); he is extraordinary talented at motivating students to bring their best selves to the table and even when they fail, he is able to get them back on track. He is technologically savvy, deeply self-reflective and a wonderful grant writer.

And, neither of these individuals would be scared to voice their views if they differed from my own. They all have.

My point is this: no one person in this day and age can have all the skills it takes to be a college or university president. The list is simply too long and too diverse. And, while a leader can surround him or herself with excellent talent and a sensational senior leadership team, ideally in areas in which the leader is not as strong, there is a value to considering a different model: co-leadership.

Co-presidencies would, I think, increase the pool of candidates at HBCUs, including curbing the loneliness at the top and giving added support with respect to the challenges leaders face. Co-presidents foster diversity in all ways – age, race, skills, ethnicity, experience. Next, they would send a loud and clear message about collaboration and cooperation and the busting of silos. An academic could partner with a government or business official. A financially savvy person could partner with someone with vast expertise in student life. It is about putting one’s ego in the right place and giving glory to another and accepting blame. It is about, fundamentally, some the very skills we want students to acquire: problem-solving, teamwork and decency.

I think a co-presidency would set an example for HBCUs and put them on the cutting edge of new approaches to build their institutions and leadership. Co-presidencies role model risk-taking and out-of-the-box approaches in real time. It shows the capacity to try new ideas and explore new territory thoughtfully and with deep regard for the risks and benefits. And, it highlights the real world: the complexity of problems we face and the need to ask for and get help – not as a sign of weakness but as a sign of strength.

Co-presidencies are not toys of the moment; there are rich examples and case studies that can be evaluated. I see co-presidencies at this moment in time as enabling key educational institutions in American culture, including HBCUs, to be lead with expertise, grace, equanimity, talent, and collaboration. And, it is reflective of how many decisions are needed and how many are ones that can be shared.

And perhaps, just perhaps, there are added upsides to co-presidencies for HBCUs that we do not yet know about or cannot anticipate. I, for one, believe those positive possibilities exist.

Based on a similar article published by the Aspen Journal of Ideas

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Reclaiming Teaching, Learning and Inclusive Research at HBCUs


Robert K. Hoggard

It is quite clear that many HBCUs across this country struggle with funding their impactful missions. Indeed, we have seen a mass exodus as many HBCUs over the years have transitioned from private to public. It seems that over this time the mission of HBCUs and priorities have shifted.

There’s a crisis going on with Maryland’s public HBCUs–I would like to focus on Morgan State University (Morgan). This year, Morgan is one of nine HBCU’s celebrating the sesquicentennial of their founding. However, over the years, HBCU’s such as Morgan have forgotten the importance of history.

A couple of months ago, an independent monitor was appointed by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake to launch distinct high-demand academic programs at Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES).

Daniel Douglas-Gabriel wrote in the Washington Post, “She (The U.S. District Judge) instructed the monitor to provide an undetermined amount of annual funding for marketing, student recruitment, financial aid and any related initiative over the next decade. Blake also insisted that any program proposed by a Maryland university must be reviewed by the monitor to ensure it will not harm the historically black schools.”

Why will the money be appropriated for marketing, recruitment and financial aid rather than teaching, learning, and research? If we want to revitalize academic programs at HBCUs, we need to invest in different teaching, education, and research. Especially in the climate we live in today, where we seem to be even more divided by race, HBCUs must attract world-class faculty. If we do, we’ll continue to see more schools increase their student body.

We must watch this court case in Maryland because it shapes the broader future of other HBCUs across the country. As financial crises persist, many schools are thinking about public status and merging with larger Primarily White Institutions. We need to be sure we are preparing to innovate young minds to serve as presidents of HBCUs because it will take new ideas to leverage the mission of our HBCUs in this survival economy.

Furthermore, we need the brightest African-American minds to teach at our HBCUs. Imagine if Cornel West taught at Morehouse rather than Harvard. Visualize Michael Eric Dyson teaching at Morgan State rather than Georgetown. Ponder Eddie Glaude teaching at Bowie State rather than Princeton. It seems to me that the Black creme de la creme are more concerned about having the biggest salary rather than having the biggest impact.

Mary Ann Fay resigned as an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Geography at Morgan State University, a department that once rivaled other programs throughout the country, led by some of the most prominent historians throughout the globe, including Benjamin Arthur Quarles, Thomas Cripps, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn. With the push towards STEM-based research and the millions of dollars in grant money that is driving this push, humanities-based programs such as the History Department are being choked out. Fay provides a rare look at this current dilemma at HBCU’s in her Washington Post publication, writing, “Transformation from above must be matched with transformation from below. Today, faculty at Morgan State work within an authoritarian political culture that restricts their autonomy and creativity. There is no faculty senate, and professors and advanced graduate students do not receive sufficient research funding.”

And so, I posit the state needs to adequately appropriate funding that supports teaching, learning, and research in all disciplines at all four of Maryland’s public HBCUs. Morgan State and the others must start properly navigating the raging waters from the inside. It seems that much of the focus is to lean on the government for assistance. This should not be the case as HBCUs were founded to provide Blacks with places to earn a decent education. Are we beginning to lose proper standing of our HBCUs at the expense of integration into the plantation-based structures of White schools?

Robert K. Hoggard, M.A. is a graduate of American Baptist College and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He has written more than 200 articles on HBCUs at HBCU Buzz Inc. and is closely watching the life of HBCUs in a period of social unrest and injustice against African-American people. He is the Counselor in The Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at Keuka College.

“All My Skinfolk, Ain’t Kinfolk”: An HBCU counternarrative


Patrice Bryan

I am tired of the idealistic conversations we have about HBCUs and what they provide for their students. I get that we want to promote them for how relevant they are. We want the world outside of HBCUs to “put some respeck” on what it is we do. But the conversations need more depth! How much do you really expect me as a disgruntled student to care about the historically racist policies and funding limitations when my stomach is growling in the library; because, I’m out of swipes for the week and the lady in the cafeteria refused to scoop me out just a little more Mac n cheese on Soul Food Wednesday? HBCUs have a responsibility to keep it real for the students who they’ve historically served. I’m tired of hearing that I should be at an HBCU simply for the sake of the struggle. My story highlights my biggest issues surrounding the HBCU conversation, a lack of accountability and a culture of fear and silence.

I’ve been to three different HBCUs at different educational levels. The idea that I was simply going to feel free because I was “skinfolk” was quickly dismantled during my first experience. I spent several weeks going through culture shock, trying to figure out where the other Caribbean students were and why they refused to play Reggae/Dancehall music at school parties. During my second HBCU experience, I felt under siege as a woman. All the black male initiatives, programming centered around black males, and the administrative undermining of the women’s studies program had me feeling like I wasn’t wanted at that institution unless I was going to be quiet.

I’m a graduate of a primarily White institution (PWI). My bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies and minor in Writing and Rhetoric are brought to you by Stony Brook University (SUNY), in New York. During my senior year of undergrad, I spent the academic year at an HBCU, courtesy of the National Student Exchange program. This experience was my first exposure to #HBCULife outside of A Different World. Ultimately, my time there solidified a desire to attend an HBCU for graduate school. I went back to Stony Brook to do the M.A. program in Africana Studies (because my professors loved me, I loved them, and they are the closest thing to adopted family that I have) and was accepted to a Ph.D. program at an HBCU for Fall 2016. Then started the worst year of my complicated Black life.

Lack of Accountability

I had to pay for this Ph.D.. I didn’t mind because they had a program here that could not be found anywhere else by name and I absolutely needed to be a part of this. Plus, the obvious, it was an HBCU. I was promised some monies. With the modest amount, I’d planned to use to cover my share of rent for a bit less than a year while I worked part time to cover other expenses. It wasn’t until after I arrived on campus that I realized that I wouldn’t be getting a dime. The person who quoted me these funds had since been removed and all the new person in charge could offer was, “we don’t have any money left”. I was jobless, almost 1,000 miles away from home, and I’d just depleted all my savings securing housing for a lease that was already signed. It wasn’t until the very end of this academic year that I would be told some students were accidentally “overlooked” for their share of funds because of what amounted to a computer error.

When I finally got up the nerve to share my disgust, financial despair, and downtrodden spirits, I was met with ridiculous suggestions centered around “grit” and sacrifice. I expressed concerns about my deteriorating mental health and constant financial woes, including almost being evicted. My main concern was the level of performance we were expected to meet while having absolutely nothing to work with to produce. Response from a faculty member amounted to: “I didn’t know anything about this, not my problem. But, I hope you don’t decide to stay.” Admittedly, I was hurt. I never expected to receive anything but genuine sympathy and a strategy to help rectify my situation. I reached out to several of my peers who warned me in one way or another: Don’t respond.

Culture of Fear

In my observation, there was a culture of fear and an aura of oppression around the graduate student experience that I’d never felt before. Having people advise me against even trying to reason with this faculty member because of potential retaliation made me sick to my stomach. Of course, I had no way of knowing if this would actually occur, but who was I to take that chance? What was an HBCU if it only recreated oppression that left you voiceless? What was an HBCU if I could not have a conversation kinfolk to kinfolk about “beef” I had with their systems? The whispered stories I heard in that year about people who spoke out and were subsequently frozen out were bone chilling. Students were being told to choose conference registration over paying bills (there was no money available for conferences), to perhaps sleep on couches so they wouldn’t have to take on full time jobs, to write next to a candle if their lights got turned off (I’m exaggerating, maybe). All this, so they could subscribe to an abstract concept of the greater good that was supposed to be attainment of the Ph.D..

Many students bought into this system in one way or another. Some felt they had no alternatives, others believed in the theoretical idea of what the program was supposed to be, and some just assumed that this was a normal graduate student experience. I remember being told by a student that “the others” were tired of reading my Facebook statuses and hearing my complaints about what was wrong with the program and the school. Since I was leaving, I was supposed to leave quietly.

The Takeaway

I left with a story, and I’m not afraid to tell it. I’ve recently decided that if I never get a job in academia, telling my story would always be worth it. Although I’ve chosen to enroll at another HBCU, where I do enjoy being, I still resent conversations that don’t engage narratives like my own. It’s not enough to point out the financial and systemic limitations without engaging the subjugated voices that suffer from it the most. It is not enough to say that the issues at HBCUs are historical problems that will take forever to remedy. And, it is definitely irresponsible to assume less of a student, and their commitment to blackness, because they make the choice to go to a PWI to avoid these problems.

At some point, these conversations should include points and suggestions that surround the need for HBCU administrators and faculty to take accountability for any role they play in causing their students to feel isolated and disgruntled. These conversations should bring to light the implicit strategy that keeps these stories from being told and dealt with. There are undergraduates at HBCUs right now, struggling to overthrow oppressive campus cultures and, like me, all they have is the power of blogging and social media to get anyone to listen.

Let’s do right by them.

Patrice Bryan is currently a PhD student at Morgan State University in Higher Education Administration where her research interests include Black women undergraduates’ access to mentoring and the graduate educational experience at HBCUs. She is also serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA on a project in Maryland to increase the quality and quantity of mentoring relationships statewide.

HBCU Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities


Louis Bolling

The story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) began before the Civil War and influenced the course of our nation, yet remains one of America’s most important untold stories. Both celebrated and misunderstood, HBCUs continue to spark fierce debates about the relevance of the schools today.

Led by one of the foremost chroniclers of the African American experience working in nonfiction film today, Stanley Nelson, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is the first and only feature documentary and multi-platform project to research, gather, and share a rich mosaic of stories that relay the history of HBCUs.

“Thoroughly examining the history of HBCUs not only allowed me to highlight their importance within black communities,” Nelson and his team share a vivid mosaic of stories from HBCU students, faculty, staff, and alumni that illustrate the ideals of democracy, equality, and pursuit of the American Dream.

“I set out to tell a story of Americans who refused to be denied a higher education and—in their resistance—created a set of institutions that would influence and shape the landscape of the country for centuries to come,” Nelson writes in his director’s statement.

A self-described “storyteller, filmmaker and teacher,” Nelson is a recipient of numerous honors over the course of his career, including five Primetime Emmy Awards and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences. In 2013, the director, writer and producer of documentaries received the National Medal in the Humanities from President Barack Obama.

Known for such films including The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2016), Freedom Summer (2014) and Freedom Riders (2010), Nelson’s recent creation, Tell Them We Are Rising, is an unprecedented two-hour PBS documentary film and interactive platform that captures the vibrant, moving and complex 150-year history of HBCUs.

“It was essential that this film highlight authentic, personal accounts alongside archival footage, letters, diaries, photographs, and even home movies of the people who have lived the HBCU experience.”

“The legacy of these institutions is not marked only by milestones and achievements; it is encapsulated by the minds and lives of the people who walked those storied halls,” said Nelson, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow who was awarded an individual Peabody for his body of work last year.

Special thank you to @CPBmedia for their support in the #HBCURising Campus Tour along w/ the #HBCUs & public stations hosting screenings

Co-Founder, with his wife Marcia Smith, and Executive Director of Firelight Media, a non-profit provider of technical education and professional support to emerging documentarians, Nelson is also Co-Founder of the for-profit documentary production company, Firelight Films.

Next week, Firelight Media will launch the #HBCURising Campus Tour featuring screenings of Tell Them We Are Rising and panel discussions with Nelson, university leaders, prominent alumni, and special guests that will address issues explored in the documentary.

“We felt it was very important to showcase the film to students on HBCU campuses because this is a vital part of our African-American and American history,” said Nelson.

The tour is a major part of HBCU Rising, the year-long multi-platform engagement project designed to drive dialogue sparked by the film among a variety of audiences. The film is the centerpiece of the effort, #HBCURising, which highlights partnerships with national organizations, high-profile events, StoryCorps audio stories, video shorts, and an all-generation, all-school HBCU Digital Yearbook.

“Many students and even alumni are not aware of the deep history of how and why HBCUs were created and the foundation for success they provided for African Americans. We appreciate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s support and the partnership on the ground with local public television and radio stations to make this tour possible.”

Major funding for the film and associated events has been provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the public media initiative, American Graduate. The 90-minute film will air nationally on the acclaimed PBS series Independent Lens on Monday, February 19, 2018, 9 pm – 10:30 pm ET.

Reprinted with permission from Huffington Post.

Louis Bolling serves the University of Pennsylvania community as an Interfaith Fellow to the Athletics & Recreation Community with the Office of the Chaplain. He holds a BS in Physical Education with a concentration in Sports Administration from Morgan State University. He is a freelance writer with The Philadelphia Tribune and Huffington Post. His interests include athletic administration at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sport for development and peace, Olympism, university-assisted community schools and community-based sports issues. 

Dispelling the Myth of the Black Ivy League: A Conversation


History of the Term and Background

In 1967, the Harvard Educational Review published an article written by Harvard professors Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, titled “The American Negro College.” In the article, Jencks and Riesman used the term, “Negro Ivy League” to describe what they defined as academically rigorous Black colleges such as Fisk, Spelman, and Morehouse. In contrast, they categorized the historically Black institutions that were not as ‘strong’ as “academic disaster areas.” Jencks and Riesman used the term “Negro Ivy League” to relegate “non-Black Ivy” Black colleges to the status of dropout factories with unqualified faculty and staff and makeshift academic facilities.

Nearly two decades later, in 1984, Jacqueline Fleming, author of Blacks in College, used the term “Black Ivy” to differentiate ‘stronger’ Black colleges from others in her comparison of Black students’ experiences at historically White institutions and Black colleges. Such distinction has created an elite category among HBCUs that is troubling as it calls into question the credibility of other HBCUs and is based on anecdote and not data.

Use of the Term Black Ivy and Connection to the Black Elites

The term Black elite refers to the highly educated and affluent sector of Black communities. These individuals are granted opportunities for generating wealth, attending top-tier schools, and have access to elite spaces. The Black elite can be seen on television in families such as the Huxtables on The Cosby Show, the Banks on the Fresh Prince of Belair, and the Johnson’s on Blackish. In his book, Our Kind of People (1999), Lawrence Otis Graham categorizes the Black Ivy League based on their significance to the Black elite, with this significance stemming from the institution’s alumni reputation and support amongst Whites.

Graham claims “Black Ivy” institutions such as Howard, Spelman, and Morehouse “will continue to attract the smartest children from elite families.” Graham claimed that because they are schools that are well respected in the White corporate and professional community, the graduates of these schools will continue to have access to good jobs and graduate schools. For these reasons, members of the Black elite will continue to embrace these three schools for their children” (1999, p. 82). 

Our Conversation

Aisha: Jenks and Riesman named Fisk, Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, Hampton, Tuskegee, and Dillard as the “Negro Ivy League” (p 44). They deemed these institutions as academically exceptional among HBCUs.

Aisha: The term “Negro Ivy League” is an implicit comparison between HBCUs and Ivy League institutions. By placing the term “Negro” in front of “Ivy League,” Ivy League schools become the standard and “Negro Ivy Leagues” are a lesser branch of that standard. The seven “Negro Ivy League” schools were known as the top tier Black institutions.

David: Both Jencks and Riesman were White men and Harvard professors at the time the article was written. Jacqueline Fleming, albeit a Black woman, never attended, taught, or worked at an HBCU prior to writing Blacks in College. Despite the researcher’s lack of experience at HBCUs, their work helped set the academic foundation for HBCU hierarchy based on Whiteness as the standard.

Aisha: In addition to Riesman, Jenks, and Fleming’s problematic statements, we must also recognize the division Otis-Graham created among HBCUs with his statement that only the certain HBCUs matter. By making this statement, Otis-Graham negated the rich history and upward movement that Blacks from the other hundred HBCUs in this country have contributed to the progress of Black people.

David: If we use Otis-Graham’s logic, we would think that only HBCUs who attracted the “Black elite” truly mattered—Howard, Spelman, and Morehouse. With this logic, we would also then discard everything individuals did who attended HBCUs other than those who attracted the “Black elite” because they “didn’t matter”. For example, Shaw University students founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—a key organization in the Civil Rights Movement. Also, Medgar Evers, Alcorn State University alum, was integral in Black liberation. Should we overlook these individuals because they didn’t go to a “Negro Ivy League” school? When these terms are given to us by people who are not from HBCU culture (those who never taught, worked at, attended, nor invested time in HBCUs), they seem to do more damage than good.

David: Thus, this is an example of the dangers of using an oppressive hegemonic mindset to judge Black institutions; this mindset is used by both Blacks and Whites. If you take on the dominant society’s view of your own culture’s institutions, you can run the risk of negating your own strength.

David: So, why is the term is offensive? How does it impact the HBCU brand?

Aisha: One reason why the term is offensive is because it figuratively says that HBCUs cannot be an independent entity with our own strength, power, and resources. We have to be compared to a White framework of education in order to be something that is worth mentioning and worth crediting as a good institution. This ideology is completely the opposite of what a lot of HBCUs, dare I say all of them, were founded on. Schools like Howard, Morehouse, Bethune-Cookman, FAMU, and North Carolina A&T—most HBCUs— pride themselves on training and educating Black professionals in various fields of study. HBCUs teach diasporan Black people from a framework that empowers and affirms Black intellect, experience, and power. And when you take on a persona of comparison to a White institution, you’re taking away this Black framework.

David: The next question is why should we get rid of these terms? And why should Black people, specifically, not use these terms?

David: The first reason why we should get rid of this term is because the people who created the term “Black Ivy” created it with the centering of Whiteness and not Blackness. When a lens of Whiteness is placed on a Black college it’s problematic because it takes away from the purpose of HBCUs. They were created to train educated, productive and gainfully employed Black people in all areas of society; this was done through a Black diaspora-centered perspective. Secondly, this term also puts a hierarchy on HBCUs that we—people of the African Diaspora who are connected to HBCUs—didn’t place upon ourselves.

David: Traditional White values privilege competition over communal uplift. When we try to divide HBCUs and begin to think, “My school is better than another school because I’m part of “Black Ivy,” you are literally undermining everything that our ancestors went through to have those institutions built. When Black students continue using the term, we perpetuate this ideology and psychology of separatism between our institutions. White people, if uneducated about HBCUs, are going to look at them like they are all the same. We need to come together to strengthen all HBCUs—not put our noses in the air and say we went to a “Black Ivy.”

Aisha: In fact, the term actually isn’t legitimate because its foundation—historically White institutions—and HBCUs—historically Black institutions— are different. The “Ivy League” was originally an athletic league that included Harvard Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth. Since it’s inception, the term has taken on a White elite meaning. The terms Public Ivy and Southern Ivy are also readily used to describe elite public institutions and elite institutions in the South.

We should put a stop to this term and start a communal conversation about what an HBCU education looks like, the diversity within it, noting that one HBCU education doesn’t have to be better than another.

Whether one is a Black student at a historically White institution, a Black student at a “Black Ivy” (coined by the aforementioned authors), or a Black student at an HBCU not under the problematic “Black Ivy” school list, the education Black students receive at each school is equally important. We need to think more about how the words we use undermine our efforts to collectively uplift HBCUs.

David: Will getting rid of the term “Black Ivy” dismantle the elitist mindset amongst HBCU alumni?

David: While I do not know that answer for sure, I do know it’s a good step in the right direction. Anytime you can remove White supremacy-laced language among your own people, you take a good step in the right direction.

David: Is there a difference between elitism amongst HBCUs and pride in one’s HBCU?

David: I believe there’s a fine line between having an elitist mindset and having pride in your institution. As a graduate of Morehouse College, where many alumni are considered arrogant, I can say first hand it can be dangerous to walk that line. It is dangerous because you don’t want to be seen as elitist in a community of educated individuals who value communal uplift. As an advocate for HBCUs, I believe every person who attends an HBCU should feel like theirs is the best because your ancestors created it specifically for you. HBCUs did and still do what no historically White institution did at their creation—educate descendants of slaves with minimal resources.

David: And for our last question, how can HBCU students, alumni, and supporters help in dismantling this term? Should we use a different term instead?

David: I think we need to stop using it. Period. There’s no benefit in creating a caste system amongst HBCUs, so we shouldn’t replace it with anything either. We must educate people about where this term comes from through dialogue. Aisha and I talked about how while I was at Morehouse and while she was at Howard, we never heard any professor, administrator, or other students use the term. However, we do recognize that this is our personal experience and the term might have been used at our own HBCU, other institutions, or with other alumni. People who generally know little about HBCUs also use the term. Many think they are giving you a compliment by saying, “Oh yeah, you went to one of those Black Ivy Schools.”

Dialogue is important because many people don’t know where the term came from, who created it, or why they created it. And that is the purpose of this Unplugged post—to explain how the term was created and question its meaning and impact. Now, knowing the term’s history, would you still use the term? It’s like a backhanded compliment. HBCU’s are academic disaster areas…but then there’s the Black Ivy…well, which one is it?

Aisha: We must start a conversation around HBCU academic performance. It is no secret that there are HBCUs that perform at higher rates or perhaps have more access to resources. Thus, what can we do as students, alumni, and community members to uplift HBCUs that aren’t performing at the high levels?

In closing, the use of the term “Black Ivy” is a myth because it creates a comparison between elite historically White institutions and HBCUs that should not exist. The term also creates elitism and separatism amongst HBCUs, which are values that don’t empower and affirm Black intellect, experience, and power.

Aisha Bowen serves as a Research Assistant for the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. She is also a first-year Master’s Student in the Penn Graduate School of Education studying International Education Development. She is native of Richmond, Indiana, and holds a B.A. in English from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

David C. Hughes is a Research Associate for the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions and a pre-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a proud Morehouse College and Prairie View A&M University alumnus.

How Universities Fail Native American Victims of Sexual Assault


Annita Lucchesi

I am 20, and a senior in college. Nine of my classmates listened to me being raped by a classmate who repeatedly called me Pocahontas the night before (even though I have fair skin and curly hair). They did nothing and said nothing. I tried to throw away my bloody bedsheets, but my landlady—who lived in the apartment below ours—pulled them from me, saying it was a waste of pretty satin sheets, and that she would wash them and keep them for herself.

It was easier to laugh it off and be the fun party girl than the sad rape girl, so that is what I did. I dressed myself up, went to parties, drank myself to oblivion, woke up with new strangers’ handprints on a body that did not even feel real anymore, cried, and did it all over again. A classmate living in another apartment below me let himself into mine when I was home alone one afternoon…he had already violated boundaries before. My roommate walked in to find us in a standoff in the kitchen…I have very few memories from that year of my life, but I cannot forget the glimmer of the kitchen knife in my shaking hand.

By the following semester, I was barely leaving my apartment at all. A professor for whom I was working as a research assistant repeatedly shut me in his office, and would ask me out on dates, make comments with sexual innuendo, and behave in a variety of other inappropriate ways. The day the department secretary came to save me was the last day I was able to go to campus. I had anxiety and panic attacks every time I tried to walk myself to class, and soon I was flunking all my classes. I was assigned weekly meetings with a university-appointed social worker so that I could drop the classes I had with that professor. Waiting for her in the special office they have for sexual assault victims was more depressing than trying to go to school; there was always at least one person crying. I felt as though we were the reject students the university wanted to dispose of. I found out that was true, when the FBI started investigating the school for mishandling sexual assault cases a few years later. When I turned in the paperwork to drop my classes, the woman working at the Registrar’s desk told me I should stop being such a slut and start caring more about school. I did not tell her I was an honors student before I was raped.

Now, I am 26. A caring faculty mentor helped to ensure that I graduated with highest honors that semester. I went on to earn my MA, though it took me four years to complete because of the impact of repeated and ongoing violence. I was sexually assaulted six more times—two times were by classmates, during a time period when the campus was plagued with repeated sexual assaults targeting woman of color students. I survived a year of life-threatening domestic violence. And, I faced extreme racialized and gendered harassment at my new university. Examples include: seeing the only other Native person in the department brutally beaten and put into a coma; being told in class that “if Native women do not want to get raped they need to leave their reservations;” being dropped from a class by a professor because I disagreed with him that “colonialism is so passé;” and, being told by a classmate that I “should just go back to the reservation,” because I did not belong there. Though I tried a myriad of services aimed at supporting victims, it was not until I joined a traditional cultural program through a Native health clinic that I found any healing.

One in three American Indian women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and one in four college students are sexually assaulted during their 4 years at school. The statistic we do not know is how much overlap there is between the two. Anecdotally, I can say that almost every indigenous woman I know in academia has been harassed, abused, or assaulted at one point in their lives. That is not to say it happens to everyone—just me, my friends, my sisters in on-campus organizations, and the professors who have taken me under their wings as mentors and aunties. And yet, despite the overwhelming gendered, sexual, racial, and colonial violence that I see surrounding us, I see very few services that are even trained to be culturally competent when supporting indigenous college student victims of sexual assault, much less services that are designed with our unique needs and experiences in mind.

I have never had a therapist who could even place my tribe on a map, let alone understand that when I was raped it triggered intergenerational trauma from when one of my great-grandmothers was kidnapped and raped by a settler man. Both universities quarantined me in quiet, sanitized waiting rooms, rather than hold my colleagues accountable for the violence they perpetrated, or provide me with culture-based services that could have actually helped me heal. What I needed was a community that could fill the aching hole that intense homesickness created, and cultural practices that could remedy the numb feelings of worthlessness and constant victimhood that I carried. Instead, both universities wrote me a prescription for anti-depressants I had no interest in taking, shuffled me through bureaucratic offices where I had to tell my story over and over, and repeatedly tried to push me to drop out.

Universities need indigenous mental health professionals, or at the very least, woman of color mental health professionals who have cultural competency training to work with indigenous students. Universities need indigenous-designed and led cultural competency trainings among all levels of staff. Universities need partnerships with indigenous healthcare centers. Universities need support programming for indigenous woman students, including appropriate faculty and staff mentors, adequate academic resources relevant to their home communities, funds for student organizations, a commitment to bringing indigenous speakers and performers to campus, safe study spaces, safe community spaces, a commitment to raising awareness of indigenous cultures among all students and staff, and culture-based physical and mental wellness programs. Lastly, universities need to stop pretending that their “rape problem” isn’t also a “race problem.”

Annita Lucchesi is Southern Cheyenne, and her ancestors’ traditional home territory is in northeastern Colorado and southern Wyoming. She is a doctoral student at the University of Lethbridge, in the Cultural, Social, & Political Thought program. She graduated with her BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012, and earned her MA from Washington State University in 2016.

No One is Coming to Save Us


Dr. Carey Yazeed

It’s amazing how individuals in administrative positions can easily turn a blind eye to a disaster waiting to happen. Since the infamous photo-op in the Oval Office and with many alumni screaming, “What were you thinking?” we sat back and watched as the presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) continued to stand their ground and appear hopeful that the Trump administration would show mercy to their institutions by providing financial support; assistance that is desperately needed to maintain the upkeep and repair of buildings, in addition to funding to continue their operations as places of higher learning. But on May 5, 2017, Trump confirmed what the rest of us already knew, that the education of minorities was not a priority for him or his administration. So now what? Reality is starting to set in and in no unspoken terms the leaders of HBCUs now clearly see that no one is coming to save them.

So how do HBCUs begin to tackle the pink elephant in the room? You know, the recurring issue of inadequate funding. Black institutions can take several active steps that could possibly resuscitate them from the catastrophic photo-op and their ongoing financial crisis:

  • Start by developing a team, one that will be transparent and honest with administration, to carefully review all of the institutions financial records. Identify where the financial gaps are when it comes to funding, donations, grants and tuition.
  • Secondly, based on the data retrieved from financial audits, devise a strategic action plan that outlines clear steps regarding what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and a deadline for each task to be completed. Actions may include allowing tenured faculty to retire and bringing in young, vibrant professors and administrative staff at lower salaries, increasing marketing efforts to non-Black and non-traditional students and fully utilizing online learning that will allow students to receive an education from a distance, regardless where they reside in the world.
  • Third, generate a cash flow immediately. Sure, they can increase tuition, but many HBCUs do not utilize their Office of Development or Institutional Advancement, which focuses on fundraising efforts specifically for the institution. Instead, Black institutions will channel fundraising efforts through their alumni affairs offices, which only focuses on one particular sector of donors, while missing corporate sponsors and major grant opportunities.
  • Lastly, HBCUs need to take an honest look at their leadership. Effective leadership entails looking at the university as an academic enterprise, an institution that is in the business of educating others. HBCU leaders must focus their efforts on generating and managing money and stop waiting on the federal government to come in and rescue them.

Yes, HBCUs have obstacles to overcome, with the biggest being limited financial resources. But insanity is doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. It is time for the HBCU leaders to wake up and realize that the rules of the game have evolved and will continue to change. And if they intend to survive, they cannot continue to do business as it has been done in the past. They must stop waiting around for a hand out from the federal government that will never come.

Dr. Carey Yazeed is a Career Strategist and the author of Worth Fighting For: Revitalization of Social Work Education at Black Colleges.

Effective STEM Education Programs: Cultivating Success Among Underrepresented Minority Students

Q Clark Professional 2016

Quintana M. Clark

Effective characteristics of STEM education programs for underrepresented minorities (URMs) lie at the intersection of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships, all of which help URM STEM graduate students navigate through roadblocks to degree persistence. STEM education programs have been around since the 1970s. These programs have emerged on many college campuses in a concerted effort to address the historical underrepresentation of minority students in the STEM disciplines at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). STEM education program initiatives range from living learning communities, summer research programs, pre-college programs, bridge/transition programs, visitation programs, and first-year experience programs. Notably, a few successful programs include Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), McNair Program, and Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Typically, such programs offer a variety of contextualized support including mentoring, tutoring, academic advising, research opportunities, professional development, networking opportunities, research grants, travel grants, and more.

The structure of STEM education programs can mean the difference between degree persistence or attrition. This is especially true for African American students who are completing an undergraduate degree and are considering transitioning into a STEM graduate program. However, STEM education programs are not all equal. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Step-Up Program conducted several studies that examined the design, implementation, and impact of STEM education programs. One of its recent studies found that more than 50 administrators of STEM education programs indicated that the success of their program to recruit and retain URMs was largely due to three themes: student-centeredness (building relationships with students both academically and personally), community building (building academic and social support communities on- and off-campus), and collaborative partnerships (cross-campus-departments, institutions, and industry).

One example of a STEM education program that has effectively integrated these three themes is the Mentoring@Purdue Program. M@P program components are aligned with the tenets of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships. The M@P program was designed to increase persistence of women and URMs pursuing agricultural life science STEM-based post-baccalaureate degrees in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. A major goal of M@P is to cultivate an inclusive and diverse culture and climate of academic and social integration, knowledge and skill development, academic achievement and motivation, and advisement activities through its on- and off-campus program components. The on-campus component provides monthly seminars, workshops, peer-to-peer mentoring, and mentoring resources. The M@P quarterly newsletter contains information on mentoring resources, applying to and attending graduate school, highlights the accomplishments of STEM scholars, and connects both STEM students and STEM faculty members. The M@P Summer Scholars Program (SSP) provides students with a scholarship to visit Purdue’s campus for a three-day real-world immersion experience. Through mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships between Purdue and industry organizations, such as John Deere, CHS, and DuPont Pioneer, students have an opportunity to engage with faculty and professionals, explore research opportunities, and attend interactive workshops. M@P is also an official partner of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

In addition to strengthening the agriculture STEM pipeline between Purdue University and HBCUs, M@P impacts the Purdue community at-large through its workshops, seminars, and programs for students, faculty, and staff. Since its inception, M@P has engaged over 500 students, faculty, and staff at Purdue and more than 1,100 faculty, staff, and students on HBCU partner campuses. The program has conducted more than 26 workshops on issues of diversity and mentoring. It presented research findings at several national conferences, producing more than 30 scholarly products. Through its Annual Invited Lecture Series, M@P has hosted five national mentoring experts including Dr. Renetta Tull, Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, and Dr. Erika Camacho, whose workshops have provided research insights on how to best serve minority students.

With a foundation of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships, STEM education programs such as M@P play a significant role in the success of URM undergraduate and graduate students. Not only do programs such as M@P provide quality research and mentoring experiences for minority students, they also expose students to strategies on how to navigate the barriers they will face on PWI campuses. Simply, STEM education programs are critical to help foster a sustained commitment to inclusion and diversity, encourage collaboration between HBCUs and PWIs, and increase the number of URMs pursuing advanced STEM education degrees.

Quintana M. Clark is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education at Purdue University. Under the advisement of Dr. Levon T. Esters, she currently serves as a Graduate Research Assistant for a National Science Foundation project entitled Modeling Agri-Life Sciences through STEM-Integration, Graduate Research Assistant for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), an initiative used to significantly increase the number of underrepresented minority students persisting to the professoriate; and she serves as the Coordinator of Research Initiatives for Mentoring@Purdue, an initiative aimed at enhancing the quality of graduate education for underrepresented minority students through fostering mentoring relationships between faculty, and underrepresented minority students pursuing graduate degrees in the Purdue University, College of Agriculture.

Marcus Johnson, Blues Alley and Education


Karen Gross

Recently, I went to hear the remarkable musician Marcus Johnson at DC’s oldest jazz and supper Club, Blues Alley. To be sure, I went to listen to this prolific and well-known musician and to enjoy the club’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. So far, so good.

But, to my surprise, the highlight of the evening had everything to do with education — one of the many poignant and powerful stories Marcus shared with the audience. This particular recounted story is still haunting me – days later.

Marcus described visiting a professor’s office as an undergraduate student (at an HBCU) and mentioning that he wanted to go to law school; the professor responded tartly, “Where are you going? Cracker Jack Law School?” The Blues Alley audience gasped loudly. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, in describing the same incident in his recent book, For the Love of Flo, Marcus asserts that the professor refers to the hypothetical law school as “Captain Crunch” university, not exactly an improvement given that that term is used to described debasing sexual acts and drugs.

As an educator (including ironically 30 plus years combined as a law school professor and a college president at an institution that served almost 70% first generation students), the story stunned me. What professor on this planet would actually think that, let alone say it? Where have I been living – in some fake civility bubble? And, what professor would be so crass as to use the multi-meaning and often deemed offensive and racist word “crackerjack?” And, how could this have happened at an HBCU, a grouping of institutions dedicated to supporting minority students and fostering and facilitating their success in the workplace?

What happened next in the story was Marcus’ stunning response to the professor. Marcus went off to Georgetown Law School (he got an MBA too) and had a business card made while still a student, which he dropped off at the offending professor’s office. In addition to identifying Marcus as a law student, Marcus wrote something to this effect to the professor on the card’s back: “Don’t ever treat a student that way again. You never know which student you teach today will be a leader tomorrow, following his or her dreams. Who are you to quash dreams?

With the audience listening as raptly as they would to his music (well, this story and the others are a sort of musical poetry), Marcus then said: “Professors shouldn’t do this kind of thing to students. They are the keepers of the future and that carries with it an enormous obligation. As a professor myself now, I know that.” And, then Marcus composed an album after this whole incident titled perfectly: Poetically Justified. He played a piece right then from the album.

This isn’t, sadly, an isolated incident, right? This isn’t the only undergraduate professor who demeans students. If we add K-12 teachers into the discussion and graduate school professors, the number of offenses increases exponentially. I still remember the viral video of the teacher who sent a first grader to the corner for making a small math error – demeaning and embarrassing her before her classmates. That incident received lots of public attention, and I wrote about the fact that it was the teacher, not the student, who needed to be sent into the corner for a prolonged time out.

That these incidents happen is bad enough. That they happen to vulnerable students makes it feel worse for me as the comments can not only be taken to heart but worse, they oft-times cannot be dispelled at home or in one’s community.

The harder question is what can we do to address and curb these instances. Surely we must have some workable strategies beyond public humiliation of the instructor through social media. And by the by, these occurrences are not infrequent; I am pretty sure many of them roll under the radar screen, internalized by students but never brought to the attention of principals, deans or college/university presidents.

Yes, Marcus has responded in three remarkable and highly unusual ways. He went back to the professor and “dissed” him royally. And, he shared and continues to share the story with audiences as a sort of shock therapy for those of us who get complacent about the power and possibility of education. And he composed art in response.

But, while both impressive and important, these responses are not enough. I remember asking the faculty at the institution I led, “Would you send your own child here to this college (assuming the fit was right)? Are all the professors ones from whom you would want your children to learn? And, if the answer is not yes, find ways to make the institution and those within it better. Change institutional culture – no small task for sure.

More recently, I have been reflecting on the distinction between teaching and teachers. There is a growing literature suggesting that the focus on teachers is misplaced and lacking in utility if we are seeking wide scale educational improvement. Instead, we need to pay attention to the process of teaching to achieve systemic reform. Perhaps but that excuses behavior like that just described.

Bottom line: the “crackerjack”/ “Captain Crunch” comment is likely not unique; stopping it is difficult if not impossible, and we live in a world in which teachers/professors — the launchers of the future — quash hope and belief in self.

It’s a rare student – who is also a rare musician – who can fight back with such conviction and commitment to self. In the absence of a more doable and realistic solution, my answer to this problem (with only a touch of sarcasm) is that Marcus Johnson needs to be cloned — literally and figuratively.

Note: Another thank-you to MW — who helps me see new things and enables me to grow and flourish every day we are together. What’s better than that when you are not a kid any more and there’s less ahead than behind in terms of time?

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

HBCU Schools of Education: at the Forefront of Teacher Education for a Diverse Teacher Workforce


Rann Miller

With the changing demographics of America’s student population, the teaching demographic in America’s schools must change with it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, non-White teachers represent only 19% of the teaching workforce; Blacks make up 6.8% and Latinos only 7.8%. There is scholarship that articulates the critical need for more teachers of color in America’s classrooms. For example, a recent study examined the long-term impact of students taught by teachers of the same race. The study found that when a low-income Black student is taught by at least one Black teacher in elementary school, their chances for high school graduation significantly increases and for low-income Black males, the likelihood of them dropping out of school decreases.

There has been a recent push for urban and inner-city school districts to hire more Black teachers; in some locations, the push has been for more Black male teachers. In Philadelphia, The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice has a goal and a plan to facilitate the hiring of 1000 Black male teachers in the city by 2025. However once in the classroom, many Black teachers are confronted with challenges that lead to their burnout and departure from the profession. A 2016 report by the Education Trust revealed that Black teachers are frustrated that they are considered primarily to be disciplinarians of Black students and not strong classroom managers or content leaders. Black teachers are expected to “fix” what ails underperforming schools with high populations of Black students. They are expected to dispense “tough love” and tap cultural connections with their students to get them to (1) comply with the rules, (2) conform to Eurocentric norms of schooling, and (3) perform proficiently on standardized tests. However, it is not the job of Black teachers to “fix” the systemic racism found in the institution of the American public school. It is not up to Black teachers to counteract the inherit biases and racist anxieties of White educators that contribute to zero-tolerance policies, the criminalization of Black students, failure to hire more Black educators and continued misdiagnosing of Black students. To maintain this expectation of Black teachers is to continue the reality of their exodus from America’s classroom.

Much of the conversation on the need for Black teachers has focused on recruiting them. Equal focus must center on retaining them. To retain them, Black teachers must be supported. Supporting teachers is not exclusive to the work place. Supporting teachers includes preparing them for the challenges and opportunities they’ll approach on day one. Supporting teachers also means providing them with a network of peers and mentors that extend beyond where they teach. For prospective Black teachers, schools of education (SOEs) at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) do offer the support mechanisms to prevent their exodus of from the classroom. HBCUs support and prepare graduates for their professional and personal lives.[i] These institutions consistently strive to meet the needs of prospective Black educators; both undergrads and career changers. SOEs at HBCUs have met the challenges of revising their curricula and programs for the new millennium with initiatives that include advanced technology, innovative recruitment strategies, alternative routes to teaching, and national certification for experienced teachers of color.

For example, Howard University SOE responded to the challenge of producing highly qualified teachers of color by creating both a math, science and literacy rich bachelor’s degree program in elementary education and its Ready to Teach program for recent graduates and mid-career changers. For graduates of its SOE degree and alternate route programs, Howard University created the Community of Practice program; a virtual mentorship community, where graduates can remain connected with faculty to gain advice and manage the challenges they encounter in their first few years of teaching to prevent them from departing the profession. While PWIs do educate Black teacher candidates, they are not always best positioned to recruit, train and support Black teacher candidates. A strong body of research indicates that Black students at predominately White institutions (PWIs) experience alienation, adjustment issues, academic difficulty, and a lack of faculty relationships, while research also shows that HBCUs foster an environment that provides a positive experience for African Americans. SOEs at HBCUs may be one of many choices afforded to prospective Black teachers, however these Black institutions can offer a distinct and tailor-made program with the academic theory, applied practice and real-world supports to prevent them from leaving the teaching profession. In keeping with their historic mission, SOEs at HBCUs have a have a proven track record of producing new Black male educators. A 2013 study revealed that a greater percent of HBCU graduates were prepared for a teaching career and employed in a teaching field. The focus of the Black teacher conversation should be on how to position SOEs at HBCUs to the forefront of teacher education for a highly qualified and diverse workforce to meet the changing racial demographic needs of American public schools.

Rann Miller is director of the 21st Century Program; a federally funded after-school program for the Woodbury City Public Schools. He is a former classroom teacher of 6 years in charter schools located in Camden, New Jersey. He is the author of the Urban Education Mixtape Blog (http://urbanedmixtape.com). He can be followed on twitter at @UrbanEdDJ

[i] “A 2015 Gallop study revealed that Black graduates of HBCU’s are more likely than Black graduates of other institutions to be thriving – strong, consistent and progressing – in a number of areas of their lives, particularly in their financial and purpose well-being.” A 2017 Education Trust report revealed that HBCUs graduate more poor Black students than do predominately White institutions (PWIs).