How Are HBCUs Performing?

Signs of the times depend on who you ask.

It is the best of times. — By Jarrett Carter Sr.

It is an era in which we can believe that black families were finally waking up and coming home to the institutions which made their middle class, made their Black History, made their black pride, made their civil rights. All-time high freshman classes, enrollment records, jubilation.

It is a renaissance of black intellectualism, spurred by the notion that neither respectability or diversity can save you from a bullet or a micro-aggression, but that introspection can help us to see the error of wanting, needing their space and their approval.

It is an age when we got a college football bowl game to call our own, graduates all over ESPN, and women leading our campuses in record number and to record-breaking achievement.

It is a season for shoutouts from political candidates, hip-hop icons, celebrities enrolling as freshmen, and dozens of social media advocates, championing the cause in the name of buzz, lifestyle, confessions, litness, and suits.

It is a new beginning for presidential leadership; from Delaware to Texas, a wave of younger, innovative presidents believing in stronger processes, higher standards, fundraising and accountability; calling for HBCUs to return to a place of leadership in Black America, on such an important topic like how to keep guns out of the hands of intentional killers.

It is the age of acceptance, as we moved towards new understanding about diversity and inclusion within our own cultural parameters, seeking unity with brothers who like brothers and sisters who like sisters, and recognizing them all as part of our family; essential antibodies in the fight to cure black apathy and intolerance.

It is the age of historically black colleges, finding ways to enjoy and thrive in the notion of what they were intended to be. It is black people, watching the dawn of black pride and self-love shine all over their spirits — slowly and warmly.

It is a great awakening. A great day in the morning.

It is the worst of times. — By Crystal A. deGregory, PhD

It is the era of black death, a time when “A [wo]man was lynched today” flags could easily be draped out of the windows of pricey high rise buildings in big cities, and taped to tattered single-story structures in small country towns across America. It is death and the fear of it — not love of self or love of institutions made by us and for us — that is forcing otherwise reluctant black families to consider black colleges for their children.

It is a renaissance of anti-black intellectualism, characterized by the decline and closure of history programs, typified by the inability of young, talented products get a job at any HBCU — much less their alma maters, and symbolized by a preoccupation with white gaze that still makes black respectability the rule.

It is an age when seemingly nobody cares that the once-greatest football program in our culture is in dire straits, the glory of its winningest coach to be relegated to the footnotes of history. It is the age when the nation’s “formerly largest HBCU” is threatened by an ideological and personality war between its board, and by objective standards, good but apparently outgoing first female president.

It is a season for shoutouts that translate into little more than photo-ops and checked diversity boxes, where too many social media advocates excel at the social and media, and fail miserably at actual advocacy.

It is a new beginning for perennial presidential vacancies, many of which will end in administrative gaffes, executive merry-go-rounds, the roughhousing of delicate situations, and the waltzing around of indelicate ones — ones which call for regretful admissions, and sincere apologies accompanied by a pledge and a plan to do better.

It is the age of non-acceptance, as we cling to outmoded traditions feeding the fire of misgnoir, toxic masculinity, rape culture, homophobia, and transphobia too many members of our campus communities leave our hallowed halls feeling unwelcomed, unaffirmed, and unloved.

It is the age of historically black colleges, and of our fight to survive with forays into ill-sighted real estate deals, the potential siphoning off of the rights to the spectrum on which we broadcast the nation’s only black-owned public television station, of secret art sales yielding less than 4 pitiful cents on the dollar followed by the embarrassing fifty-year old mystery: Where is the life-sized portrait of one of Black America’s greatest figures given to HBCU culture by its most august son? It is black people, cringing with the here-we-go-again refrain, knowing that we need to be better stewards of what we’ve got.

It is a less than great awakening. A less than great day spent mourning what was, what is, and what has yet to be.

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