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For Some HBCUs to Last, More Diversity Necessary

by Shane Thomas

 

Some Historically Black Colleges and Universities are now predominantly White and Hispanic. 

 

 

 

We’re Still Here: Preserving Historically Black Colleges and Universities


The word history, from which the term historical derives from, means the study of past events.


In America’s past, what was for White Americans was for Whites only and Blacks got whatever White America allowed Blacks to have because of slavery and later segregation.


Sometimes, White people did not allow Blacks to attend their colleges because many were for Whites only.


Therefore, colleges were formed for the education of Black Americans.


That is the history of race and education in this country.


Critics of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) sometimes say why does America need historically Black colleges because no one has ever heard of a historically White college or universities?


In actuality, every college or university that is not an HBCU is a historically White college, because historically Black colleges came into existence because many White colleges would not admit Black students because of segregation.


So instead of pouting and sulking, Black leaders like Booker T. Washington built their own institutions of higher learning, even making their own bricks to use in the construction of the buildings on the campus of Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala.


However, because of integration many top African-American students have been lured away from HBCUs to attend predominantly White institutions (PWIs) and the enrollment at many HBCUs has diminished considerably.


Therefore, HBCUs have to make a concerted effort to diversify their student bodies or risk shutting down the doors to those historic institutions forever.


At West Virginia State University, an HBCU, 62.8 percent of the 2017 fall enrollment consisted of White students, African-Americans made up 8.9 percent of the student body, Asian/Pacific Islanders made up 6.2 percent of the student body, students identifying themselves as multiracial made up 5.5 percent, with 15 percent choosing not to self-identify.


“Our demographic mix is very interesting,” said West Virginia State University President Anthony J. Jenkins. “We can be the actual case study in terms of how this thing works well, and in terms of not losing your HBCU identity.”


Actually, way back in the 1920s West Virginia State had many Asian and international students.


Furthermore, the HBCU became predominantly White in the 1960s.


Although West Virginia State has a predominantly White student body, that does not change its history.


History, if recorded factually, is permanent.


West Virginia State came into existence to educate Black college students because Blacks could not attend many White schools.


That history does not change because the composition of the student body is a lighter hue than a century ago.


In 2015, the 10 HBCUs with the most diversity, or fewest percentage of Black students, included: Bluefield State College, West Virginia State, Kentucky State University, Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Delaware State University, Elizabeth City State University, Tennessee State University and Xavier University of Louisiana.


In 2015, Bluefield State College, also in West Virginia, had a student enrollment made up of 85.1 percent White, 10.2 percent Black, 1.2 percent Hispanic, 0.2 percent Asian, 0.1 Native American and 2.6 percent international.


Although Black students at schools like West Virginia State may not get the traditional HBCU experience, non-Black students often learn more about other races and cultures that might contradict the narrative seen via mainstream media.


Honestly, there are still lots of regions, cities and neighborhoods in America in which people of a certain race have very little or no real interaction with people from other races or ethnic groups.


“To be White at a Black institution is to understand racial pain,” said Julianne Malveaux, president of the all female HBCU, Bennett College from 2007-2012. “If a White girl goes to Bennett, she doesn’t have to go to diversity training when she goes into the corporate world.


“It is an enhancing experience, especially for a student who wants to live and work in a diverse world.”


Malveaux added that White students who attend HBCUs get to understand what it feels like to be the only person of your race or ethnic group in a room, which is a normal occurrence for Black people in corporate America and also in classes at PWIs.


Despite the fact that HBCUs have never excluded students based on race, they came into existence because of racial exclusions at PWIs.


However, many observers believe for HBCUs to last into the future, a concerted effort has to be made to recruit non-Black students especially since some projections show a decline in Black high school graduates in the near future.


“HBCUs, since their founding, have been open to all manner of students and included all, regardless of race,” said Lezli Baskerville, president/CEO of the National Association of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. “HBCUs are the only class of higher education that since their founding have been that. They have never been race-based. There is educational value to diversity and preparing people for progress in a global economy. HBCUs have known that, and they are exemplars in diversity.”


At St. Phillip’s College, a Texas HBCU, Hispanic students are the majority, followed by White students and then Black students.


The student enrollment at St. Phillip’s College stands at 56 percent Hispanic, 26 percent White and 11 percent Black.


Total student enrollment at St. Phillip’s College stands at approximately 13,000 students.


Because of various factors like low student enrollment, lack of funding and lack of accreditation, many HBCUs like Leland College, Bishop College, Saint Paul’s College and Daniel Payne College have all permanently shut their doors over the years.


Morris Brown College in Atlanta faced the possibility of closure when it lost accreditation for financial mismanagement, thus losing many students who could no longer qualify for financial aid without accreditation.


However, the historic school is fighting off that possibility and looking to build for the future.


Alums, faculty members and students of Morris Brown have a popular saying, which is “We’re still here.”


With its finances back in order, Morris Brown is looking to regain accreditation by 2019.


The school was the first college for Black students in the state of Georgia, founded by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and established in 1881.


Morris Brown once had 2,500 students at its peak.


In 2009, only 240 students attended the Atlanta college.


But by June 2018, 1,000 prospective students had expressed interest in attending Morris Brown.


Morris Brown is benefitting from many fundraisers from alums as well as prominent figures like radio personality Tom Joyner.


It will take money to preserve the history that is HBCUs.


But, it might also take more diversity to really ensure their longevity.

This article was published on Friday 17 August, 2018.
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