As Lawyers’ Committee Awaits Decision On High-Stakes Desegregation Case in Maryland, HBCU Students Share Their Stories

The Coalition for Equity & Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al., represents one of the most significant higher education desegregation cases in the last two decades. Filed nearly 10 years ago, this case challenges the failure of the State of Maryland to dismantle the vestiges of segregation in its higher education system and the exacerbation of racial segregation at the four Historically Black Colleges and Institutions (HBCUs).

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Kirkland & Ellis, LLP represent the Coalition, which is comprised of students and alumni of Maryland’s HBCUs. Below, current students from two of those HBCUs, Coppin State University and Bowie State University, reflect on what this case means for them.

Brandon Walker is a Baltimore native, an activist, a community organizer, and a student. He is a Urban Studies major and Nonprofit minor at Coppin State University, which he chose to attend because of a political education class offered by Dr. Kenneth Morgan focusing on issues relevant to Baltimore communities.

“I grew up in Baltimore knowing the difference between where you live decides whether you live. I’ve witnessed how education is valued through class, race, and the institutions that follow. My education has helped me against the negative stereotypes to challenge the status quo through college academia. I like grassroots organizing to raise awareness about social and economic issues.
Brandon Walker, Coppin State University
“Attending an HBCU means understanding the history of bigotry and racial discrimination, through segregated efforts in public and higher education. I think that the funding and academic programs in Maryland’s universities show a clear distinction where the priority has been between HBCUs and traditionally white institutions. I hope the state of Maryland will fix this issue and do so in good faith; so that HBCUs in Maryland can continue to prepare students for academic excellence.”

“Students of diverse backgrounds faced challenges and extreme prejudice before and after Brown v Board of Education, and the doors of HBCUs have always been open to students of all backgrounds during and after de jure segregation.”

Jailyn Easley is also from Baltimore, Maryland, and is a recent graduate of Bowie State University, where she studied Visual Communications and Digital Media Arts. In August, she will continue her studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jailyn wants people to know that HBCUs still matter:

“Some of the most successful entrepreneurs, business men and women, entertainers, and educators have graduated from these institutions, so don’t underestimate HBCUs just because you think they might be sub-par to various white schools.”
Jailyn Easley, Bowie State ‘17
“Attending an HBCU is the epitome of supporting your black community. Predominately white institutions could never offer me as much life experience and overall education that an HBCU could. The majority of the HBCUs that I have come into contact with have had that support system that students need. At HBCUs, we are a name and a face instead of a number. I could never go to a school where they don’t care about the minority community and downgrade our organizations and events.”

Jailyn studied the transcripts from this case for her senior thesis show in April 2017, which was titled “Project 106” and explored the importance and relevance of the nation’s 106 HBCUs.

“I am familiar with the issues. I believe that [the case] isn’t getting as much recognition as it should be, especially from our own schools. I think that the points of revising the mission statements and eliminating program duplication at the different universities are very valid and real issues that have negatively affected our schools.”

Paris J. Holmes is a native of East Baltimore and the president of the Student Government Association at Coppin State University, where he studies Political Science with a minor in Anthropology. He hopes to pursue law school after he finishes his undergraduate degree next year, and his goal is to advocate for equitable funding for urban school systems and public education as a whole.

“Attending a Historically Black College/University is a sincere commitment to upholding and protecting the history and legacy of leaders who devoted their lives to the progression of the black community. Scholastic and academic devotion opened doors for them to write, publish, innovate, litigate, practice medicine, demand civil rights equality, seek political offices, and so much more! Attending an HBCU gives us the platform to first learn about and comprehend the unique experiences of the black community and other sub-cultures in the American discourse. This unique learning experience transcends the walls of a classroom, and literally exists on the campus and the surrounding community itself. This comprehensive lesson allows us to then draft a more holistic narrative of African-Americans, and other minorities that are often neglected in mainstream media.”
Paris J. Holmes, Coppin State University ‘18
“I do not want it to be conveyed that in any manner is Coppin or any other HBCU a ‘last option.’ Coppin was in fact my best option, because it holistically catered to every aspect of me as a student. Not only was it affordable, but it was committed to over a century long mission of’ ‘nurturing potential, and transforming lives.’
Especially the lives of African-American students from low income backgrounds. I really hope that both the State and the nation would awaken to the fact that HBCUs are more than just the historically black schools.”

In June, Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Michael D. Jones of Kirkland & Ellis LLP delivered closing arguments in the remedial trial before Federal District Court Judge Catherine Blake. In October 2013, Judge Blake held that unnecessary program duplication between Maryland’s HBCUs and Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs) perpetuates segregation at the HBCUs.

Judge Blake may issue her remedial order before the end of 2017, rectifying years of decisions that have furthered segregation at Maryland’s HBCUs.

Students on campus hope for a future where HBCUs can thrive and continue their legacy of inclusion, diversity, and school pride.

“The conversations on and off-campus is that the students of HBCUs and traditionally white institutions must stand in solidarity,” said Coppin State University student Brandon Walker:

“Students are the stakeholders involved in the court’s decision, and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to create a network called the Baltimore Intercollegiate Alliance. The BIA is a network of HBCUs’ and traditionally white institutions’ students using their voices to demonstrate their social concerns on and off-campus. Students should be concerned about the overall welfare of both universities in Maryland and should be encouraged to speak about the issue concerning the coalitions case against the state.”