Honoring our Historical African American Colleges & Universities, part 2

Well, it looks like we are on another roller coaster ride this week, politically speaking, that is. It’s like it has reached another level of “he said-he said and he did-he didn’t” round of the ongoing “Trump Effect.” Although for more than a few the “Trump Effect” denotes any myriad of negative thoughts and “doomsday” commentary, my hope is, with time, this Presidential season will prove to be more positive than negative on many levels for us all.

May we discover with time whatever truth needs to be uncovered on either side for our nation’s healing and enduring saga. While it all takes its due course, I am determined to find good things somewhere along the way for both sides of the aisle. So, let’s continue honoring our Historical African American Colleges & Universities, part 2, with our President Trump and those who paved the way.

During the month of February, Trump started with a Black History Month “listening session” attended by many of his supporters but also those willing, and some even eager, to be at the table. Then came the signing of a proclamation making February 2017 National African American History Month. In early February 2017, Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary, then visited Howard University, one of our nation’s most prestigious black universities. According to Susan Svrluga, Education Secretary Devos Made Her First Visit to a College Campus (Washington Post, February 10, 2017), Devos was quoted saying, “Howard University plays a unique and valuable role in the fabric of our higher education system, and I am honored to help celebrate its 150th anniversary. I look forward to visiting many schools across our great country and continuing the discussion on how we can increase access to affordable, quality higher education.”

In addition, “Lezli Baskerville, who leads the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, said she thought it was a positive signal that DeVos chose to visit Howard first. While leaders of historically black postsecondary schools have met with political leaders of every administration for decades, she said, ‘something else is going on here’ . . . Manigault’s role in the administration could help keep HBCUs [acronym for Historical Black Colleges & Universities] a part of the conversation . . . Having had that experience and having remained connected to historically black colleges and universities . . . she’s (Manigault) been moving with precision and dispatch from within to make sure that HBCUs are a critical space not just in education but in workforce preparation . . . they could be the epicenter for economic development for urban areas that President Trump talks about — and rural, as we have land-grant institutions.”

Near the end of February, as covered in previous article, Trump and others toured the National Museum of African American History & Culture. On February 27, Trump then greeted dozens of Historically Black Colleges & University (HBCU) leaders in the Oval Office. According to Susan Svrluga, Trump, DeVos and GOP lawmakers are reaching out to historically black colleges (Washington Post, February 27) Vice President Pence also met with many of them (along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and White House aide Omarosa Manigault) saying “You’ve transformed lives through education and helped to lead our country to a more perfect union,” . . . The president and I admire the contributions of historically black colleges and universities . . . the Trump administration is ‘committed’ to ensuring that HBCUs ‘get the credit and attention they deserve.’”

Yet, some HBCU advocates are considerably skeptical and suspicious about Trump’s motives for this early and unexpected outreach. Svrluga quotes Johnny Taylor, president of Thurgood Marshall College Fund, that supports HBCUs, that “It is unprecedented . . .It’s really, really bizarre, is the only thing I can say. It’s so counterintuitive you can’t make it up.” Svrluga goes on to quote Marybeth Gasman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, saying, “. . . that over the past 50 years, such schools have had bipartisan support. Funding levels have stayed relatively the same, by and large, over that time. Meetings with members of Congress happen routinely . . . Both Bush presidencies were supportive of historically black colleges . . . And every president since Jimmy Carter has issued an executive order about them.” Taylor, however, was not as enthusiastic about Omarosa Manigault’s role as director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, who was a PhD alumna of Howard University.

With our first black President, Obama also offered his support to our nation’s black colleges and universities. He made considerable effort bringing attention to the significant impact HBCUs have had in educating our nation’s African American students. According to Antoinette Campbell, Obama staffers meet with black college presidents (CNN, September 19, 2011), college president from predominantly black institutions across the country gathered in 2011 at the nation’s capital for a conference commemorating National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week, with its title being “HBCUs: Engaging the World Anew.”

A few days earlier, President Obama signed a proclamation designating this event for September 18-24, to promote the President’s goal of creating the best-educated and most competitive and diverse workforce in the world by 2020. Earlier in February 2010, “. . . Obama signed an executive order renewing an initiative on historically black colleges and universities, establishing a presidential board to advise the White House on matters pertaining to strengthening the educational capacity of these institutions.”

Yet, those times were not without criticism and skepticism along the way as well. In part 3 next week, there was considerable hope when Obama was first elected. However, as the years rolled on, tensions spilled over on many levels not only from the Congressional Black Caucus but also with HBCU leaders who felt his policies were significantly hurting their schools. Then comes Trump with his surprise hello early in his term. Let’s see next week how Obama to Trump unfolds.