The Nature of Faculty Impact at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

amanda wilkerson

Amanda Wilkerson

A strong research case has been made that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are economic engines. In particular, the United Negro College Fund released findings from its HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities which corroborated the aforementioned assertation. Their report demonstrated, in dollar and cents, the occasionally elusive value HBCUs have on external partners. Although the aforementioned is true, I argue that the ability of HBCUs to make such an impact is also a result of the teaching strength of its faculty, whose instructional approaches empower students to seize the power of a post-secondary education in a transformational manner. Moreover, while I have studied HBCU instructional practices, and account for their culturally-relevant pedagogical approaches, my statement is buttressed by the investment my HBCU, Florida A&M University (FAMU), made in me. I am originally from Miami, Florida and primarily grew up in two different south Florida communities. First, Liberty City and secondly, unincorporated Dade County, which is now referred to as Miami Gardens. Each of these geographic locations have disastrous crime and educational statistics that enumerate the often-stated realities of living in mostly urban areas. One author, in a story that appeared in the New Tropic, described Liberty City as the forgotten Black middle-class mecca. Also, many of my friends marveled at the movie Moonlight as an illustrative focal point to help them picture the neighborhood I proudly grew up in. However, supported by the love of my family and community, my life refuted the unintended casualties generally associated with metropolitan living. Instead of being a high school dropout, I went to college. Relatedly, during my senior year of high school, I met, then FAMU president, Dr. Humphries. He visited my school during a college tour stop in Miami. I remember him being a towering figure who stood taller than my high school principal. He was serious about sharing the good news of FAMU and had more presence and spirit than my high school pep squad. As he approached the microphone, he asked one simple question. “How many of you will attend FAMU so that we can teach you how to change the world?” At the time I had no plans of attending Florida A&M. In fact, immediately after graduating from high school I elected to enroll into another locally located institution. Nevertheless, when things did not work out at my selected school of choice it was Humphries’ words that drew me into applying to FAMU. I left my bustling Miami community to live in Florida’s capital city. There was no fanfare when I arrived in Tallahassee. With one suitcase, no housing, and no class registration, I was determined to make my second attempt at college work. Immediately I felt at home.

Perhaps it was FAMU’s Homecoming or developing new friendships, or perhaps it was the front row seat to watching the incredible marching band. They practiced yards away from my residential hall. The sounds of their musical energy would float right into my room’s window. Still, those experiences paled in comparison to the richness of the instructional knowledge I encountered that electrified me after attending classroom lectures given by the likes of Adeline Evans, Bill Proctor, Sylvester Cohen, Emma Dawson, Ufote Inamente, David Jackson, Valencia Matthews, and so many others. Essentially, while the student life experience made me feel like a Rattler, learning made me feel like a FAMUan. My professors critically engaged and challenged students to not simply learn, but to learn deeply. To better explain, I didn’t walk into a class, I was welcomed into a community of people who looked like me, cared about me, and was ready to equip and empower me for lifelong learning because they saw the best in me and other students. Note, I wasn’t always a model undergraduate. In fact, it took me several years past the traditional four-year timeline for degree completion to actually graduate. Nevertheless, when I left FAMU, buried in me was a “somebodieness”, an enduring ability to believe in one’s dignity, and worth as described by Dr. Martin Luther King. In short, as Ladson-Billings explained it, what FAMU did was not just “good teaching” or what the academy has come to recognize as culturally-relevant pedagogy. FAMU took all that I brought with me, lived experiences and culture included, to make me most of who I am today. Put slightly different, faculty developed my raw potential. On-campus instructional leaders instilled into me a sense of pride. That kept me going when I wanted to give up. I so aptly remember the words of my math Professor Dr. Anderson, he would say to the class “what’s the difference between a black balloon and white balloon, it’s not the color of the balloon that makes it float, it’s what’s inside that makes it go up, so I am going to develop you Rattlers from the inside out.” Math was not my favorite subject nor my academic strong suit, but he made me practice College Algebra like a math gladiator. For me, I blossomed when instructors knew I didn’t come into the classroom with the knowledge but were unfazed. As I recalled it, faculty didn’t just record and report my progress or lack thereof, they themselves were interventions that spurred my learning. HBCU faculty demand excellence and expect success, but they provided support, both in and outside of the classroom. On one hand, their support and belief in me helped me stay and complete college. On the other hand, their support and belief in me heavily impacted my decision to teach in higher education. As Dr. Mary McCloud Bethune explained it, HBCUs really do empower students to enter to learn so that students can depart to serve. True enough, my illustration is only a microcosm of the academic magic that happens at HBCUs across the country. Yet it gives credence to the critical notion that faculty are apart of the engine which fuels the economic impact HBCUs offer. Recently, I earned a doctorate. Additionally, this fall I began my tenure earning faculty appointment at an emerging preeminent research 1 post-secondary institution, the University of Central Florida. As I begin my wonderful professional career, I have many to thank—parents, God, Sissi—my mentor, an unwavering source of support, but also FAMU. As faculty, administrators, and supporters consider the impact HBCUs have on the larger US economy, I hope that HBCU leadership will also consider how faculty support of students can benefit the schools exponentially. The greatest reminder that HBCUs are strong economic systems is noting the role faculty play on campus.

Amanda Wilkerson is the director of the Urban Teaching Initiatives Project at the University of Central Florida in the College of Community Innovation and Education. Additionally, she has written educational materials and coordinated forums on significant social, pedagogical, and educational equity matters. Prolific social justice advocate and scholar, Dr. Wilkerson serves as guest editor for the Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals Journal-Hillard Sizemore Special Edition, and Co-Editor of From Student to Scholar: How Colleges of Education Mentor Underserved Doctoral Students; A project of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Recently, Wilkerson served as the partnership committee chair for the Parramore Innovation Education District initiative. As a part of her passion for higher education, Amanda is enhancing how students seize the promise of  post-secondary education through access.

Mental Health and Gay Men at HBCUs

img_4164.jpeg

Jalynn M. Stubbs

 

Depression is a “silent killer” of African American men, similar to hypertension. For homosexual and bisexual Black men, personal experiences with  stigma, homophobia, and discrimination related to one’s race and sexual orientation has been directly related to poorer mental health outcomes, including low self-esteem, increased chances of depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation, and maladaptive coping strategies including substance abuse and engaging in fewer health-seeking behaviors (Deasy, et. al., 2014). I have seen firsthand how one’s sexual orientation can impact their mental health and overall wellbeing. Many of my close friends identify as homosexual men and I see the adversities that they are faced with on a daily basis. As a result of these adversities, some men are anxious about sharing their problems because their sexuality is already viewed as an issue. This, in turn, has a negative effect on their mental health and can deter them from seeking help from others. I conducted a study on the intersectionality among African American gay males and how this affects their attitudes towards mental illness, their willingness to seek help from mental health professionals or others, and also their different coping strategies. With this study, I hoped to explore the intersectional identity of African American gay men in emerging adulthood at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I conducted eight in-depth interviews to gain detailed information about the experiences that currently impact their mental health and help-seeking behaviors. 

Many challenges arise with being an African American gay male. The participants in this study admitted to dealing with many stressful experiences (school, trauma, jobs, etc.) The participants had various coping strategies to overcome their stressful situations such as praying, self-care, listening to music, talking to family/friends, etc. Many of the participants shared that their current strategies are very effective. Each participant believed that mental health care is very important within the African American and gay community but fear mental health professionals don’t quite understand the issues related to their salient intersecting identities. I conducted this study on this particular group because this is a population whose voices are not heard often. Studying the intersectionality of these men allowed me to hear how they feel about reaching out to therapists, and it was not a surprise that some of the men shared that they would prefer to express themselves and reveal their personal issues with their family members and close friends, instead of a therapist or counselor. Although they all agreed that a therapist is an ideal person to seek help from, these professionals do not often tailor their practices/techniques to better understand the needs of Black homosexual men which significantly discourages them from seeking help. Contrary to the articles discussing the exclusive environment of HBCUs in not fully accommodating LGBTQ students, these participants shared being students at an HBCU provided them with a community that uplifts them rather than criticizes their identity. These men feel more at home and have found friends and even faculty members to relate to. Many talked about having a different level of comfort when talking to those who looked like them and for many, they felt this level of comfort at their HBCU. 

Even though I am not an African American gay male, I know what it’s like to be hesitant about seeking help from mental health professionals, especially those professionals that do not look like me. It can be difficult for a professional to show empathy when they do not fully understand another individual’s background. Black people are all different, but many of us deal with similar struggles every single day. Our issues and problems are often treated as less than, even our mental health. Attending an HBCU for the past three years has given me the courage to speak out on topics concerning mental health, mental health for all identities. HBCUs are putting forth efforts to provide assistance to those dealing with mental health issues, but there is always more to be done and more strategies to be implemented to make seeking help a more comfortable process for LGBTQ students. My hope is that my study shines a light on the needs of African American gay men and the Black community, in general, when it comes to seeking mental health assistance in the future. Our mental health matters and it should be taken seriously and handled with the utmost care.

Jalynn M. Stubbs is a rising senior at Clark Atlanta University where she studies psychology. She chose to attend Clark Atlanta University because it felt like home, a place where she wouldn’t be just a seat filler in the classroom. Her professors and advisors provide endless support and opportunities for Jalynn to grow and develop her career. She is forever grateful to her research advisor for assisting her with this study. “AA Gay Men vs. The World of Mental Health” received 4th place at the 4th Annual Research Symposium at Clark Atlanta University and “Honorable Mention” at the 2019 AUC Psychology Research Day. 

Jalynn was born and raised in Chicago, IL where she attended Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School. There, she was a member of the student government, concert band as well as the softball team.

Recently, Jalynn had the opportunity to conduct research in Accra, Ghana. She plans to develop and present her research during her last year as an undergraduate student. Jalynn is currently a member of the Isabella T. Jenkins Honors Program, where she serves as President for the 2019-2020 school year. She was also inducted as a member in Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Psi Chi International Honor Society, and Sigma Alpha Pi National Leadership Society. Jalynn is also an Ambassador for BeWOKE, a campaign launched by the nonprofit program Save A Girl, Save A World.

HBCUs vs. PWI: Racial identity and Academic Confidence

David Triche

David Triche

A recent journal article entitled, “Motivational and Judgment Predictors of African American Academic Achievement at PWIs and HBCUs,” suggested that Black student achievement at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) requires additional effort compared to Black student achievement at an HBCU (Reeder & Schmitt, 2013). Upon learning this, I became interested in studying the experiences of Black students that attend PWIs and how these students’ experiences differed from those that attend HBCUs. More specifically, I wanted to examine the differences in perceptions of academic confidence between students at various universities. Before I arrived at Clark Atlanta University, I’ve had a predominantly White K-12 education. I enrolled in an HBCU because I wanted to learn more about Black history, be immersed in Black culture, and be around more individuals who looked like me. Within the past 3 years at Clark, I have become more academically confident and have been able to gain a greater sense of pride in my racial identity than I did in my previous years of schooling.

Past research indicated that the type of institution can moderate the relationship between academic confidence and the psychosocial variable of racial identity for African American students (Adames Et al., 2016; Klimstra Et al., 2017; Oswald Et al., 2004). Previous studies also discussed the need for Black students at PWIs to develop behaviors that help them cope with an environment where Black culture was not prominent, and how this coping might affect the development of their academic confidence and racial identity (Cross & Strauss, 1998; Smith, Payne, 2002; Suddler).

Aside from the aforementioned research, there simply isn’t enough literature on academic confidence and racial identity in students at HBCUs. I recently conducted a quantitative and qualitative study. In the qualitative study, I examined two focus groups; one that consisted of 5 students who transferred from PWIs to an HBCU, and one with 5 students who started their collegiate career at Clark Atlanta University.  My quantitative study was a survey using questions from the Cross Racial Identity Scale and the Academic Confidence Scale. The survey was sent out to students at a PWI and several HBCUs across the country yielding a total of 40 participants whose voices were included in the study. In both studies, I found that students who transferred from a PWI to an HBCU felt that they had higher academic confidence at an HBCU than a PWI. In the focus group with participants who have had both PWI and HBCU experience, students claimed they felt more comfortable asking for help in class and participating in lectures at an HBCU than they did at their PWI. Students felt that attending an HBCU has helped them increase their self-esteem because of the atmosphere and the constant positive affirmations they received from their peers and their professors. One of the participants who transferred from a PWI  stated that they felt more self-confident after transferring to an HBCU. A current student at Clark Atlanta University shared that they felt like they were contributing to Black excellence by attending an HBCU and claimed they found joy in seeing Black people graduate from college, engage in community service, and achieve their goals—this student shared they loved going to an HBCU because they were able to see other Black people winning (Triche, 2018).

Although I did not attend a PWI, in my years of K-12 schooling, I felt invisible. The school I attended didn’t take the time to recognize the important figures in Black history. The curriculum at my predominately White high school was very Europeanized and the teachers only talked about the White pioneers in their particular subjects. At Clark Atlanta, we learn about all of the first Black pioneers across all fields. At Clark, many professors do not make the students feel like they are a number in their classroom. The professors are intentional with being culturally competent and inclusive of everyone in the classroom. In the classroom at an HBCU, I’ve had experiences when professors made every effort to build a personal relationship with students and often times, these faculty members become like family. Although they are like family, many of my professors hold students to a high standard and students feel an excitement and joy in being in Black surroundings.

HBCUs are often well connected and many provide opportunities for students to secure jobs with companies that are seeking Black scholars. At HBCUs, students do not feel out of place on their campus. My HBCU has also taught me how to navigate the often inequitable institutions in America while also embracing my Blackness. Being at an HBCU there is constant involvement with Black political and social activities. Jessie Jackson, Stacy Abrams, and Roland Martin are among the few who have been to Clark Atlanta University to discuss the importance of voting, police brutality, and the importance of HBCUs. Just walking on the Promenade on Market Thursday any student can find 20 vendors selling products for us by us including Dashikis, natural hair products, shea butter, and t-shirts with names of those who were victims of police brutality etched across the chest. This is what I think makes all HBCUs great; all Black students should feel an increase in racial pride and identity and have the opportunity to be surrounded by Black excellence.

At an HBCU, we matter. Although attending an HBCU is not a goal of all Black college-going students, I think if Black students choose to attend a PWI, they should urge their institution’s administrators to implement more programs that promote inclusivity and Black uplift. PWIs must consider how their institutional structure perpetuates academic doubt and suppresses academic confidence for Black students. Perhaps PWI administrators can start with hiring and ensuring more faculty are culturally competent. Or even, acknowledging their shortcomings and understanding that their institution may not meet the needs of their Black students. If PWIs are unable to provide these spaces, there is always space at Black colleges where Black students can feel appreciated and respected.

David Triche is a senior at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) majoring in Psychology. David chose to study at Clark Atlanta University because of CAU’s long and illustrious history of offering African American students a world-class education. David knew many students attending Clark Atlanta University would have similar backgrounds, circumstances, and similar cultural experiences to his own. David believes CAU offers an atmosphere of community and collaboration among the student body and professors. He notes the faculty have been there to help nurture and guide him throughout his college education thus far.

David grew up in Frankfort, Illinois where he learned to play several instruments, wrestled, played tennis and was a proud member of the Kappa Leadership Institute, Chicago. While a member of the Kappa League, David had the opportunity to study abroad in Chile, South America for two months for a language immersion program.

Currently, David is an active member of the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society, as well as the National Society for Leadership and Success, and is also a part of Psi Chi the International Honor Society in Psychology.

TCUs Developing Tribal Leaders

DR.MonteRandall - Monte Randall

Monte Randall

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) were created to provide an opportunity for Native Americans to gain access to higher education. The first TCU was the Diné College established in 1968 (Diné College website, 2019). Later, the Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Assistance Act of 1978 provided permanent funding to institutions whose student population is a majority of federally recognized tribal members. Tribal Colleges and Universities have provided a variety of curricula that addresses several needs such as general education, cultural identity, business, science, education, arts, and healthcare. Today, there are thirty-seven TCUs across the United States (AIHEC website, 2019) that continue their individual missions to promote Native American culture and education. Of these institutions, five offer a master’s degree, nine offer a bachelor’s degree, and the remaining twenty-three offer associate degrees (AIHEC website, 2019).

While the TCUs provide the opportunity for tribal members to gain access to higher education, the majority of these institutions offer associate degrees. This means that most TCU students seeking bachelor’s and master’s degrees will have to transfer to mainstream colleges or universities to obtain that degree. The challenge for TCU leadership regarding both faculty and administration is two-fold.  There are limited credentialed Native faculty, and the graduate programs from which both Native and non-Native faculty and administrators come from are not sensitive to the needs of Native American cultural leadership. As we see this phenomenon develop in TCUs, we are also seeing this same lack of a Native American Leadership training within our tribal governments and business entities.

Tribal Colleges and Universities continue to support the needs of its students and its mission to perpetuate Native American culture. The focus of TCUs should also look to expand to create leadership for individuals looking to go into tribal leadership and create more advanced degree programs for those going into higher education leadership. As the focus of accrediting institutions has recently concentrated on faculty credentials, many TCUs are being affected by the pressure of this specific challenge. Tribal governments and business entities have faced these challenges for decades before the existence of TCUs.

Today, as tribal nations must assert their sovereignty on many issues within the United States legal system or the economic structure of the states within their boundaries, it is more imperative than ever to have strong tribal leadership. The role of TCUs has made an incredible impact on Indian Country by supporting the educational and cultural needs of many students and graduates. The evolution of TCUs should be to create leaders within tribal communities through an intentional curriculum focused on a Native American leadership model. A focused leadership model for Native American leaders would take into account the specific cultural practices of each tribe combined with theory and skills development. Native American leaders were traditionally identified early, some through family lineage, but then mentored with a variety of teaching methods. Aspiring leaders exhibited the qualities of compassion and were created by giving the tools necessary to decide and act for the best interest of the people. These core values are still needed in tribal leadership, but also need to be supplemented with the skills to operate services and economies for the tribe.

Likewise, at the TCUs, leadership succession plans are needed to ensure executive level administrators are ready to step in as current leadership transitions to retirement. Also, more advanced degrees offered at TCUs would facilitate the resolution of this need with the development of leadership degree programs.  This is the critical next step for TCUs in their development as the changemakers in the lives of tribal members.  Both TCUs and tribal nations could benefit greatly with a more focused vision on creating and maintaining Native American leadership programs.

Monte Randall is Muscogee (Creek), from the Talladega Tribal Town, and Deer Clan. Monte is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the College of the Muscogee Nation where he serves on numerous committees including accreditation, curriculum, and graduation. Also, he has served as the project director for numerous grants including, the National Science Foundation, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is a 2017-18 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow, who serves his community as a board member of the Glenpool Schools Indian Education Parent Committee, as a community leader, and Chief Executive Officer and founder of a nonprofit men’s mentoring organization.

Monte is a veteran of the United States Navy and the Oklahoma Army National Guard. He is a graduate of Haskell Indian Nations University with a B.S. in Business Administration, the University of Oklahoma with an M.A. in Native American Studies, and Oral Roberts University with an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration. His dissertation was titled, “The Effect of a Life Skills Curriculum on the Problem Solving Abilities of Tribal College Students.” He has conducted numerous hours of research of the literature on life skills, self-esteem, resiliency, problem-solving, Native American historical trauma, and domestic violence. He is a contributor to the Tribal College Journal and regularly presents within the community as an advocate for education, youth programs, Native American culture, positive male role models, and ending violence against women.  

Areas for Improvement: The Impact of Inexperienced Leadership and Lack of Corporate Fundraising at HBCUs

 

SJefferson_Headshot

Sheri Jefferson

There are many conversations about what is not working at Historically Black Colleges Universities (HBCUs). CEO’s/President’s inability to raise corporate funds (dollars or services) and decline in enrollment have contributed to administrator’s inability to bring about positive change. Therefore, a change in the narrative on the “impact of ineffective leadership” has to be discussed as a factor that can improve the stability and sustainability of HBCUs. Additional funding from alumni or the government is not going to correct poor leadership or solve the inability of a CEO to raise corporate dollars.

There are several other issues that plague HBCUs. For decades, HBCUs have had obstacles overcoming accreditation challenges, financial mismanagement, enrollment decline, infrastructure issues, being understaffed, and leadership turnover and retention. These obstacles dramatically affect the instability of the institution and are direct reflections of the leadership decisions that do not reflect the core values of the founders. The mission and goals of any college or university are directed by the leadership and the leader influences institutional staff to fulfill the mission and accomplish its goals set by the CEO and Board of Trustees. The leader is paramount to the institution’s success and they should aim to motivate, guide, and build the morale of the institution.

The Board of Trustees (“the Board”) is responsible for selecting the president based on the recommendations of the student body, alumni, faculty/staff and the surrounding communities. Presidents are charged with corporate fundraising and leading the institution in a direction that is applicable to the mission and vision of the institution. If the Board fails to select the best candidate or fails to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities to the students and alumni, then the stability of the institution becomes fragile. Good or bad, the leadership (Board of Trustees and administration) sets the standard for success. In order for HBCUs to progress, institutional change must start with the Board of Trustees.

While board members should not inject themselves in the day to day operations of the college, they must have a clear understanding of the institution’s policies and procedures of operations.  Recruiting and admission, finances, financial aid, and academic production are not the only areas that are important to the success of HBCUs; I believe these areas in conjunction with other areas lay the framework for an institution that is operating to serve students, alumni, and constituents. Therefore, board members have to reevaluate and reassess their fiduciary responsibility when selecting a president.  This is the first step in ensuring the vitality and success of our HBCUs. Selecting a president is one of the most important decisions the Board will make. If the Board does not understand what is required for these areas to function properly, how are they expected to hold the president accountable?

According to the American Council on Education (ACE), financial management and fundraising occupied a significant portion of college presidents’ time in 2016. Some of their biggest frustrations which include a lack of money and the degree to which constituent groups understand institutional challenges may shape this focus. Sixty-five percent of college presidents identify budget and financial management as an area that occupies most of their time. Forty-four percent of college presidents cite a lack of time to think and reflect as a key frustration. Fifty-five percent of college presidents believe the provost is the most supportive internal constituent.

Presidents and administrators must be equipped with meaningful data that will offer insight to enhance the revenue stream from alumni and private and corporate donors. Traditional fundraising efforts will help HBCU presidents secure substantial gifts from untapped donors. Having an appreciation for the donor’s wishes and making the donor feel connected to the institution and its leadership will likely aid them in acquiring a major gift. Philanthropists rely on their relationships with an institution to influence their giving. The lack of connection between prospective donors and the institution will result in unsatisfied philanthropists. Cultivating a meaningful and impactful donor relationship may lead to greater donor involvement and contribution. If historically Black colleges are to survive financially, they must learn how to plan effectively within the institutional context to achieve their desired fundraising results. Executing a rational approach to developing and implementing a comprehensive fundraising campaign is key. Categorizing institutional needs, developing plans for achieving those needs, planning for implementation of those plans, and actually executing the campaigns will be critical to the survival of these institutions. Some HBCUs have been able to do this very well such as Claflin University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Hampton University.

Governing boards, presidents, and other upper-level administrators should embrace and understand the purpose of fund development and its importance to the institution’s financial stability. In addition, recognizing that the removal of these obstacles—accreditation, finances, enrollment, infrastructure, understaffing, and changes in leadership, can ensure the stability of HBCUs.

Sheri Jefferson is a former higher education administrator. She has held positions as Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Director of Financial Aid, and Adjunct Instructor. She has had the opportunity to alongside many talented individuals in higher education; which has afforded her the opportunity to increase her knowledge base in higher education. Sheri is currently a financial aid consultant.

She is passionate about young people and is committed to their success in college and in life. She understands that every student will not attend college but she knows that every student can be successful in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue.

Sheri is a member of the Army National Guard. She holds a master’s degree from Southern Wesleyan University and a bachelor’s degree from Benedict College. She is the mother of two sons; ages 24 and 21 and a proud grandmother of a 2-year-old.

 

 

Peering from the Outside: Supporting HBCU legacy

IMG_5547

Shalander Samuels, Ed.D.

As a high school teacher, I have noticed that a few of my students, many of which are sophomores, have been bringing in college letters from universities that are beginning to recruit them. At my school, we are intentional with celebrating each time a letter is received. Yet, I have not seen a single letter from an HBCU for any of my students. Although it is great that students are being contacted and prompted to think about college so early, I could not help but think about how HBCUs are not reaching out to these students. PWIs are hard at work, they are sending recruiters, sending reminder letters, and they are advertising frequently. Students have enthusiastically shared how they are looking forward to the institutions that have remained in constant contact with them since the beginning of their sophomore years. I can’t help but ask HBCUs, where are the recruitment letters? Where are the guest speakers and advertisements to the high school students informing them of the option to choose the type of university they would like? Consider the many students who are unfamiliar with the wealth of knowledge and positive experiences HBCUs provide. With the current socio-political climate, now is the time for HBCUs to step up to the plate and begin reaching out to younger students to encourage them to consider their institution as an option.

I could sit and add to the persecution of HBCUs, as is popular these days. Many are aware of the lacking resources at these institutions, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge institutional structural challenges that deter such recruitment efforts to exist. However, I do believe that there are innovative and cost-efficient ways to best share the mission and vision of these illustrious institutions with younger students.

Let’s consider the following:

Social Media Engagement: What about taking advantage of and leveraging technology by recruiting through the use of social media? In this digital era, it is much easier, and cheaper to advertise and reach out to high school students via digital media platforms. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat all give quick access to eager eyes and ears, this is an easy way to connect. For example, how could YouTube be used to micro-target students? Using social media as a method for recruiting can be beneficial to HBCUs as they strive to educate the next generation of Black students.

Alumni Outreach: HBCUs should reconsider the use of alumni who are willing to support the schools through their own personal organizations, giving their personal time, and those willing to make connections with school districts and other K-12 systems. Many secondary schools allow guest speakers to conduct “teach-ins” as well as volunteer opportunities in middle and high schools. These can be opportunities for alumni to share the mission of your institution and encourages former HBCU students to be ambassadors to their alma maters, further expanding the institutional reach.

Events for Freshmen and Sophomores: Developing events specifically for high school sophomores and freshmen, even middle school students, such as a “visit a HBCU day” (as most universities already target juniors and seniors) could widen the knowledge and interest in such schools. Moreover, some middle schools already have college trips each year as well as end-of-year trips in and out of state; HBCUs could be a targeted effort. Additionally, considering how your institution could partner with specific K-12 organizations to develop a more organic relationship is also another way to connect young students to the mission of your institution. Although higher education is a different entity than K-12, the two entities could further collaborate and establish innovative initiatives and programming that could potentially increase funding opportunities, particularly aimed at high school freshmen and sophomores. There are a myriad of summer programs that allow minority students to experience HBCUs. For example, Jackson State University in Mississippi hosts at least four K-12 summer programs, including a program related to STEM. Howard University also has a pre-college summer program. In 2015 the Verizon Innovative Learning Program for Minority Males was launched to support HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions further expose younger males of color to new technology and mentorship. Purdue University and Florida A&M University also engages in programs for students from grades 10-12. Many of these programs are over the summer and some of these programs have costs, so grants should be sought to deter the financial strain on the students and to further eliminate financial obstacles to HBCU matriculation. Extending these innovative ideas yearlong would also be beneficial for all students.  A direct focus from policymakers and administrators in funding and supporting with necessary resources would encourage and motivate other institutions and bring positive attention to the impact of these universities.

A friend of mine declared strongly that I had no “dog in the fight” of HBCUs, as I never attended one. She, a graduate of and a strong advocate for these colleges, always spoke highly of her knowledge and HBCU experience. For a minute, I thought maybe she was right, but I later realized that I too had a voice; I am just offering a different perspective. I feel completely convicted in my thoughts of supporting HBCUs, as I would like the future of my children to be filled with the knowledge and experiences associated with such legacies. In order for this to happen, HBCUs must begin thinking innovatively about how to best recruit the next generation of students.

Shalander Samuels is currently a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. Her research interests include English Speakers of Other Languages’ (ESOL) achievement and gaps in learning as well as creating unique literacy intervention programs in majority-minority communities. She is keen on developing varying ways to connect higher education and grades K-12 research, especially in urban areas. Shalander has written educational materials and presented at national and international conferences, she has also coordinated research forums that focus on literacy.

 

 

 

 

Preparation and Community: Reflections from an NCCU Alumnus

Will Headshot

Will Anyu

Recently a few colleagues and I sparked up a conversation about how prepared for graduate school we were as a result of our undergraduate institutions. Throughout this group, we had people who had attended schools such as Harvard University, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, The University of Rhode Island, Tougaloo College, and North Carolina Central University (NCCU). In addition to being college graduates, we also shared one distinct commonality. We all identified as African American or of African descent.

As we discussed what aspects of our respective institutions assisted in our development and preparation post-graduation, one thing repeatedly came up. My peers who attended predominantly White institutions (PWIs) constantly spoke about their lack of community. Not necessarily from their respective peer groups but more so from their institutions as a whole. Further engaging in this conversation, one thing became apparent. Throughout my undergraduate experience at NCCU, I never felt unsupported by my institutional community. In fact, I dare to say that I would not be pursuing a doctoral degree at an Ivy League institution right now if it were not for the community I had at NCCU.

Although my peers attended wealthier institutions than NCCU, they often complained about the lack of support they received from their institution. In fact, one member of our group stated, “I don’t believe my school appreciated my Blackness. To be honest, as a Black person on that campus I was looked down on compared to my White counterparts.” Hearing this statement brought up memories of the PWI I attended prior to transferring to NCCU. I remember often being told by administrators and faculty alike that I would not make it to graduation. I often witnessed peers treated lesser than because of the color of their skin. But most of all I often remember being overlooked simply due to the color of my skin and the social class I belonged to.

But all this changed once I stepped foot on the campus of NCCU. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by Black brilliance. I attended classes taught by Black teachers, I learned first hand about the African diaspora from Black scholars. The senior leadership at this epicenter of Black excellence was comprised of Black people who looked like me. In many ways, I attribute my decision to embark on a career in higher education, due to the love, resilience, passion, and power I received as a student at NCCU.

Looking back at my educational journey, I often think of the lessons I learned at NCCU that still serve me well today. As a result, I have illustrated a few of these lessons in an effort to potentially help encourage those who have or will call schools like NCCU home one day.

It takes a village: There is an old African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When I enrolled in NCCU, I was a naïve young man who thought he knew everything about life. But as it often does, life humbled me very quickly. As an out of state student, I often remember faculty and staff members inviting me to family dinners, church, and other outing activities, just so I would not feel alone. I remembered being challenged by my university mentors to not settle for average grades but strive to be the exceptional student they knew I could be. It was through these acts of love and care that I have been able to strive to be the best version of who I am meant to be.

Work like your life depends on it: During my sophomore year, I often recall my mentor stating, “ Will, it is imperative that you work like your life depends on it, because one day it just might.” Although that was almost a decade ago, those words still hold relevance today. My first semester of doctoral studies nearly destroyed me mentally. But due to the aforementioned statement, I worked day and night in addition to practicing self-care to ensure that at the end of that semester, I would come out victorious.

Spend your 24 hours wisely: In one-on-one conversations with Chancellor Emeritus Charlie Nelms, he would often say, “Will, you know, everyone has the same 24-hours in a day. What determines an individual’s future success is how they choose to spend their 24.” Balancing working full-time as well as pursuing a terminal degree can be exhausting. But capitalizing on how I choose to spend each day while scheduling time for adequate rest has allowed me to maintain this balance.

Strive for your purpose: When I enrolled in NCCU I thought I wanted to pursue a law degree. But by the time I left the gates of my beloved alma mater, I realized fighting for educational equality was my purpose. As such, I have dedicated my life towards creating opportunities for those who society often overlooks and turns a blind eye to.

Thanks to the preparation and community I received at NCCU, I have been empowered to take on anything that comes my way. For those who are currently working towards their degrees, I leave you with this: Build your village; work like your life depends on it; spend your 24-hours effectively; and strive for your purpose no matter what obstacles are placed in your path.

HBCUs: Premier ─ Not Second-Rate ─ Institutions

image2

Treya Allen

HS 034

Janelle L. Williams

 

One debate that continually proves to be invalid is the constant comparison of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to predominately White institutions (PWIs). Oftentimes these discussions, sparked by individuals who are unfamiliar with higher education or the history of higher education, put forth ideas or pose questions that are grounded in nothing more than opinion sprinkled with skewed facts. In turn, forcing current HBCU students, alumni, supporters, and advocates to become reactionary and defensive, holding up the unique purpose and continued relevancy of HBCUs, quashing the comparisons to PWIs. The main context of the debate is typically centered in the secondary status awarded by social constructionism to HBCUs in comparison with PWIs, though the mission and historical context of the institutions are distinctly different. These debates, dominated by elitist thinking, created an unequal standard that postulates PWIs as the premier educational standard and HBCUs as second-rate institutions. What makes an Ivy League institution the best decision for Black brilliance? Who determined that a PWI is synonymous with the standard of education? Who brainwashed Black people into thinking that PWIs are the epitome of success?

Carter G. Woodson argued and warned in The Mis-Education of the Negro, that the [White] schools that we are sending our children to are slowly educating them away from themselves. Woodson also confesses that he once believed in the necessity of what we now regard as “Eurocentric education” ─ education that is centered on the past, present, and future European people. However, upon being schooled and socialized in these systems, Black students were taught that moving from their communities in search of “better” lives or returning to their communities after being “educated” would help revitalize and improve those same communities.

The erasure of the notion that Black-serving, Black-managed or Black-owned is inferior has to start within the Black community.  Once, we as a community, stop romanticizing the idea of White being the standard, we can create our own internal validity markers. This includes how we view and respect our schools including HBCUs. Which, in effect, ends the need to constantly compare HBCUs to PWIs. James Baldwin refusing to accept the discursive thought of White standard said, “[T]he world is not white; it never was white, cannot be white. White is a metaphor for power, and that is simply a way of describing Chase Manhattan Bank.” What if Black people stopped engaging in the HBCU/PWI debate and focused instead on the accomplishments of HBCUs? What does it look like to esteem these HBCUs, which are pivotal in the construction of the Black community and specialize in the genius and intellect of Black students?

HBCUs have, for generations, excelled at sharpening the brilliance of Black children and emerging adults while embracing cultural competence without disregard to other systems or viewpoints. This is not to say that Black students cannot thrive and successfully complete degrees at PWIs or that HBCUs are perfect institutions deficient of issues or concerns. We do however assert that HBCUs are not in competition with PWIs to prove that they are viable. This is not their mission. Somewhere we have been socialized to believe that they are an alternative option in higher education, instead of the pillars of training and education that were established to serve the Black community. HBCUs were created as a path during the incredulous practice of education for place. Given no other option for schooling and advanced training, HBCUs became the way out of no way. An answer to the prayers that many individuals, families, and communities prayed for. As we continue to shift our thinking, we ask a final question ─ what does it look like to honor the purpose of HBCUs without the standard of Whiteness or White supremacy as the guide for assessing the relevance, purpose, and evaluation of their mission in the education of Black students?

Janelle L. Williams is the Assistant Director for Health Policy at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a Visiting Scholar at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. In addition, she currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Cheyney University Foundation.

Treya Allen currently serves as a senior academic advisor at the University of Arizona. Her scholarship centers on elevating Black scholars and families through culturally relevant ways of knowing -both ancestral and generational found- within the Black community. She is the curator of underground retention programs for Black scholars at the collegiate level and an independent learning specialist for students in K-12. Her mission is to empower parents as the first teacher of their children and to see Black children soar academically, socially, and developmentally. You can find her on Instagram @justtreya or on Twitter @T2Allen.

 

 

Cookman Wildcats, Community or Chaos?

amanda wilkerson

Amanda Wilkerson

 

During the month of January, we pay special honor to Dr. Martin Luther King. King was a talented theologian, civil rights giant, and an American hero. His leadership on many causes became a template to fight against injustice in the pursuit of equality. Some might argue that a fight is upon the horizon for Bethune Cookman University’s solvency as its managerial forces determine who will be next in leading the beachside historically Black college against the backdrop of a tide of trouble. My own view is, Bethune Cookman University (BCU) requires a leader who has command of academic provocations; management of fleeting fiscal resources; brilliancy in donations development; and, I suspect, an uncommon skill–supervision of Dr. Mary Bethune’s legacy.

Make no mistake, BCU is in the midst of an existential crisis. Many have noted the symptoms of this salacious critical point. Others have documented the causes of the dilemma. I seek to enter the conversation in order to discuss how BCU should move forward. I do so under the veil and vision of Dr. King. It is important to consider King’s laudable leadership regarding his social justice advocacy. Though the circumstances that face BCU is intimidating, I often wonder how its stakeholders can acknowledge and apply King’s leadership. Could BCU harness the prophetic modernity of King’s work within the context of the ever-present opportunity to overcome challenges that pervade the Wildcat community; annihilate its a crewed achievements; or dismantle distinctions that have set BCU apart and moved the institution ahead?

As I consider King’s life’s work it forces me to question, what is the dream we have for Bethune Cookman University? I am torn between the shattered sacrifices of a woman that gave her all to ensure that, initially, little black girls could be formally educated juxtaposed to the modern realities of an academic establishment dedicated to educational equality. We see the triumph of Dr. Bethune’s sacrifice, yet the truth is her legacy is marred with nearly a decade’s worth of struggles. Suffice to say, BCU requires a vision that sustains and supports the sacrifices of such a celebrated founder.

The pride of those that want to ensure that the university’s legacy exists for generations to come can be accomplished. It is, therefore, with urgency that I put forward three points of view that I feel will serve as sources of inspiration for the Cookman contingency as it fights for the soul of its storied school.

There any many facts that exist about Bethune Cookman, what do you have faith for?

First, the good book specifically clarifies that we walk by faith and not by sight. In other words, the fortitude necessary for the way forward is a faith walk. Not to be confused with empty religious piety that bring(s) on powerless paralysis. A faith walk is about the ability to reflectively position one’s thoughts on what is best while having the reflexivity to move work in a direction where faith, causes an effect on facts.

Second, rid your institution of individuals who love Cookman but don’t have the knowledge, skills, or the expertise to guide a modern-day university into a successful learning metropolis. This goes above and beyond a call of action to denounce current leadership, or demonize board oversight. To the contrary, it is important to solicit the input of stakeholders to determine key characteristics needed to advance avenues for maneuvering Bethune’s last will and testament. The expectation is that Bethune Cookman University was founded for the enrichment of the community in which it resides. This is not to say that outside investigations, or reviews of administrative missteps won’t help the school, but rather fixing the institution will be the work of those who have the skills and stand in solidarity with the institution.

Finally, I take a different approach from the aforementioned prescriptive points to conclude with an inquiry. What kind of mindset will it take to overcome the obstacles observed? Bethune Cookman University is an educational powerhouse that has served its community for 115 years. As an empowerment agent, how will Wildcats challenge the structures that signal its demise while balancing transforming the school into a beacon of light and transitioning out of the

Jackson Era? I suspect that the answers to my questions will not come easy and the approach to my probe will require more than a strategic plan. Nevertheless, the present discourses present an opportunity to counter stratify and write a new narrative.

For many reading this article, the call to salvage the predicament facing Bethune Cookman University is profoundly personal. Current students love the school and benefit from its nurturing environment. Alumni relish in the reclamation of a campus culture that seeded their dreams and situated their destinies. No matter if you are faculty, student, staff, administrator or alumni, all believe in the power and promise of Bethune Cookman, including this FAMU Rattler. As I wrote earlier it is not enough to evoke an examination of the problem. It also not enough to practice a scorched earth framework pitting the tutelage of Mary’s legacy against each other. What is central to the work of Bethune Cookman’s forward march is a deep investigation of Dr. King’s work for which he questioned, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.” I look forward, to the community all Cookman Wildcats will build to dramatically curtail chaos.

Amanda Wilkerson is the director of the Urban Teaching Initiatives Project at the University of Central Florida in the College of Community Innovation and Education. Additionally, she has written educational materials and coordinated forums on significant social, pedagogical, and educational equity matters. Prolific social justice advocate and scholar, Dr. Wilkerson serves as guest editor for the Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals Journal-Hillard Sizemore Special Edition, and Co-Editor of From Student to Scholar: How Colleges of Education Mentor Underserved Doctoral Students; A project of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Recently, Wilkerson served as the partnership committee chair for the Parramore Innovation Education District initiative. As a part of her passion for higher education, Amanda is enhancing how students seize the promise of a post-secondary education through access.

It’s Time to Put an End to HBCU Gatekeeping

brandy

Brandy Jones

“We can joke like that, but you can’t.”

Last year, I overheard friendly banter between three HBCU alumni about which HBCU is better Howard, Morehouse, or North Carolina Central University. I chuckled listening to my colleagues talk about institutions as if they were competitive sporting teams and sat quietly not sure how I could contribute to the conversation — having been a graduate of a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I watched as they compared homecomings and joked about the quality of entertainment that happened over the weekend of events that brought so many Black alumni together each year. As I giggled listening in, one of my colleagues looked to me and said clearly, “we can joke like that, but you can’t.” I was taken back by that statement and yet it provoked some thought.

My first job after graduating college was working for the first historically Black college, Cheyney University. And, although a couple of my family members and friends attended HBCUs, I had not experienced what it was like to attend a college with a mission that centers on my identity or to go to a school where people who looked like me made up more than 8% of the student population. I never attended a homecoming that was exciting or thrilling enough to return and never experienced going to class and being amongst the majority. The truth is I am an outsider.

That day was monumental for me because it allowed me to understand the invisible boundaries that have the potential to influence my work as someone who aspires to do higher education research and research particularly related to HBCUs. I experienced these gatekeepers at my first job at Cheyney; when I was considered untrustworthy because I had not attended an HBCU. I experienced it as a person working at a research center focused on highlighting institutions like HBCUs, which serve students of color and provide avenues of educational attainment for students — many who look just like me, come from low-income backgrounds, and whose parents never stepped foot on a college campus prior to graduation. I understand the hesitation to feel protective of HBCUs as they are hubs of culture and centers of Black excellence, yet have been underfunded, undersupported, and perceived as inferior institutions by many outsiders. I get it. I know and believe like many HBCU alumni that HBCUs must be protected at all costs.

I may not have attended an HBCU, primarily as a result of a lack of information as a first-generation college student, a desire to stay close to home, and because it was cheapest to go to my state’s flagship institution, but I am not the enemy. I am not here to penetrate any HBCU camaraderie nor claim to comprehend what the HBCU experience is like. I want to share the value and significance of these institutions having worked so closely with the students that these institutions have transformed. We must end this HBCU vs. PWI debate and build community regardless of the choice of your undergraduate institution. I may be an outsider, but I am not an adversary. In a country where the value of the educational institutions are under constant questioning and the HBCU list is dwindling, HBCUs (and their alumni) cannot continue to gatekeep who is able to advocate for these incredible institutions.

Brandy Jones is the Assistant Director for Communications at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also currently pursuing an M.S.Ed in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania.