Am I my “HBCU Keeper”?
Am I my HBCU Keeper? If you, your parents, siblings or children graduated from an HBCU, the answer to that question should be a definite “Yes”. During a time when the need and relevance for HBCUs is continuously being questioned and scrutinized, our voices, our actions and our dollars are required now more than ever.
As “HBCU keepers”, we must become strong advocates and to be advocates, we must know the history and the contributions of these institutions to our country. Let us not forget the reason HBCUs exist in the first place. Let us not forget that there was a time in our country when Blacks were not allowed to earn an education and attending an institution of higher education was prohibited by law. In 1837, the Institute for Colored Youth, now known as Cheyney University, was established followed by Lincoln University in 1854 and Wilberforce University in 1856, Harris-Stowe in 1857 and LeMoyne-Owen College in 1862. Post-Civil War, the second Morrill Act of 1890 was passed to support the establishment of black land-grant institutions in the United States. Despite the disparity of federal and state funding, these institutions and the many others that were established, thrived and propelled many African Americans from illiteracy and poverty to academic excellence and the higher social standings. It is critical to point out that although HBCUs were established to educate blacks, their doors were always open to students of other races and nationalities. This holds true today as we welcome students from all walks of life, nationalities, religious and economic backgrounds. For example, in 2016 Delaware State University was one of two universities and the only HBCU in the US to accept Opportunity Scholarship students, or DREAMERS. Holding true to their historic mission to provide access to higher education to those who are denied by other institutions, DSU welcomed these academically talented young people to their campus and they thrive in pursuit of the American dream. Just as HBCUs have an open door policy for diversity in our student population, we also welcome diversity in our portfolio of supporters. We welcome, encourage and solicit support and advocacy from all those who find value in the historic, current and future contributions of our institutions to the education of all people.
With the growing options for higher education and the elaborate efforts by majority institutions to recruit top minority academic achievers to fill their diversity gaps, we must step up our game by restructuring the dialogue of who we are and what we have to offer. As advocates, we must know the facts and remind folks that HBCUs produce 27% of Black students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines and 21 of the top 50 institutions for educating Black graduates who go on to receive their doctorates in STEM are HBCUs (https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-spurring-african-american-stem-degree-completion). We must also provide reliable support to maintain and enhance academic excellence and professional competencies in the classrooms, admissions, financial aid and student accounts offices and in our communities. The exuberance of pride and excitement as we welcome our students to campus each semester will remind them of their purpose and our expectations of excellence without excuses.
Thinking back to my first day of classes at my HBCU, I literally get butterflies in my stomach. The overwhelming excitement of knowing that I was about to enter into unchartered waters, but feeling optimistic because I was at a place that had my best interest at the forefront of its mission. For this reason, I am my “HBCU keeper”. Are you?