Can Students “Take Back” an HBCU That “Isn’t Theirs?”

In a video posted from the #TakeBackTxSU social media account, an apparent alumnus of Texas Southern University cautions the audience that the movement can’t be valid because students are “in an application” stage and can’t take back “what isn’t theirs.”

As students become more vocal nationwide with campus grievances and demands for better outcomes in tolerance, service delivery and administrative transparency, this video is one of the reasons why HBCU students often feel marginalized and unheard. Students believe that what they want, feel and pay for doesn’t matter in the eyes of campus executives and faculty because, they, the students, “haven’t paid dues, are spoiled, or don’t know what they are talking about.”

Administrators and alumni are right. Students don’t know what they are talking about, and driven by passion, impatience and anger. Their movement isn’t fortified with real information, because administrators typically aren’t in a rush to explain how politics, finance and culture impact leadership decisions on almost a daily basis.

Not all students are angry and discontent for the sake of such, and not all of them are byproducts of millennial discontent or entitlement; they are stakeholders who most times don’t know the first thing about the business of higher education, but know enough to see and feel how it impacts them.

Have students ever been told how much each meal in the cafeteria actually costs, and how much upgrades to menu options would increase their meal plan expenses? Do they understand the bidding process for food service contracts, or the notion of how some HBCUs do business with companies who pledge to give money back to the institution in chargebacks, regardless of their track record of food quality or success?

If students are looking for better customer service and response to student housing and services, have they been told about labor unions and the rules of contracting these services? Has anyone explained, beyond the student who sits on the board and the few students in SGA who are allowed in on certain administrative meetings, the costs of service and maintenance?

Have students been told what “deferred maintenance” means? And with these things, have students body been given the option to choose which campus improvements they are willing to finance with extra fees or fundraising? Do they know what Title III funding is, and what its used for? Do they understand the political players and legislation which impact HBCU funding, construction, student admission and program development?

Or are we blaming their lack of knowledge on apathy and entitlement?

HBCU students would be so much more powerful and active advocates if we gave them the foundation, and the credit, for being smart enough to do so. If we held as many meetings to discuss strategic planning and budgeting as we did to encourage students to swarm the state capital to counter budget cuts and legislative attacks, we would graduate students who would be more invested in the institution because they would know exactly what it takes to run it. And they would know just how slim the margin is on almost a monthly basis to keep doors open, while still trying to admit and retain students who’ve yet to realize their academic potential, or to make good on their financial obligations.

If we are cool with HBCU students promoting their dissatisfaction to friends, family and global communities by way of social media, then let’s continue insulting them and discounting their capacity to understand real life data and trends in HBCU finance. Let’s continue to hide behind the idea the ‘Student Government should be telling the students what goes on’ in executive meetings. Let’s keep acting like the information we didn’t have as students is okay for today’s students not to have, simply because we didn’t have it 20 years ago.

Or, we can recognize that this generation has literally grown up accustomed to information being at their fingertips in seconds, and apply this reality to persistent issues with customer service and student relations on campus.

When you give students information, they tend to yield expected results like graduate, get jobs and become wonderful citizens. Why don’t we give them the same power to be good citizens on our campuses?

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