In spite of fewer resources compared to the nation’s other majority institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities graduate impressive number of majors in education and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Responding to critics who question the relevancy of HBCUs and whether they can embrace the culture of diversity they have demanded of others, a panel of HBCU presidents meeting at Tennessee State University on March 24th, said HBCUs continue to play a key role in the nation’s higher education landscape and have become more diverse in student population, faculty and staff.
“Those raising questions about the relevancy of HBCUs have no case to back their claim,” said President Glenda Baskin Glover, of TSU, in an opening statement, adding that the question should be about how HBCUs have survived with limited resources and yet produce outstanding graduates.
“How can HBCU’s become a model for other institutions by operating with limited resources and yet we have survived with a high level of performance by putting out more than 5 percent of all graduates in the nation annually? That should be the question,” Dr. Glover asserted.
Attending a three-day “Diversity and Inclusion Summit on HBCU’s,” Dr. Glover, Dr. William B. Bynum, of Mississippi Valley State University; and Dr. Kevin D. Rome, of Lincoln University Missouri, answered questions about HBCU mission, good governance, customer service, and a culture of openness that embraces all without regard to race, sexual preference or heritage.
The summit brought together participants from institutions and organizations across the country including Clark Atlanta University, Indiana University, Xavier University, Alabama A&M University, Vanderbilt University, Fisk University, and Florida A&M University.
Dr. Ben Reese, longtime educator and president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, served as moderator of the Presidents’ Panel, a key component of the summit organized by the TSU Office of Diversity and International Affairs.
On the issue of limited resources with high return, Bynum and Rome agreed with Glover that instead of questioning HBCU’s relevancy, critics should be asking how non-minority institutions could learn from HBCUs.
“Not only are our institutions diverse, HBCUs are relevant to those students who are there,” said Dr. Rome, at whose Lincoln University blacks are now in the minority at 40 percent, a shift seen in the last six years. “HBCUs give opportunities to those who would not have had those same opportunities at other institutions. Their graduates are making great difference as doctors, engineers and educators.”
“Are we still true to the HBCU mission,” Reese asked.
“We should be true to our mission, focus on what we are about, and continue to do what we do well,” said Dr. Bynum, warning that HBCUs should not try to take on the mantle of being everything to everyone. “This is not a one-size fits all business. Role models and mentorships are the backbone of what we are about.”
On the broader issues of diversity and inclusion, especially dealing with lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender, the presidents said their institutions have exercised complete openness on “individual” free expression, and have instituted policies that put no barriers to individual practices.
“It is an asset that we can do things that embrace everyone,” Dr. Rome said. “If we are in the business of teaching, then we must be ready to embrace and allow people to speak out and not be faced with questioning who they are.”
HBCU presidents Bynum and Glover agreed that universities should be a place where people can be who they are.
Drawing from his background as a sociologist, Bynum said he was dismissive of the long-held belief by “religious conservatives” that being gay is a lifestyle choice.
“For those in the black community who say being gay is a choice, science has proven them wrong,” said the MVSU president. “And the comparison of gay rights to civil rights has great merit because it all comes down to a mater of individual right.”
Dr. Glover, the longtime educator and trained lawyer, sees the issue as a matter of constitutional right.
“I am a strong supporter of the Constitution that tells one to be what they want,” Dr. Glover said. “We can’t close the doors on some and say we are diverse. Allowing people to be what they are is what diversity is.”
Among other issues, the HBCU presidents said resources, especially funding, was one of the main problems facing HBCUs. For instance, in Tennessee, it is not how many students you recruit but how many you graduate that determine funding level, Dr. Glover told her colleagues.
“So why we try to go the traditional recruitment route, we have to recruit in a certain way to carry out the mandate of the state, and remember to recruit students who can help us get funding,” Glover said.
On the question of how HBCUs can be a model for other institutions, the TSU president repeated her assertion that non-minority institutions should learn how HBCUs have remained successful in the face of limited resources.
Break-out sessions discussed topics including “The New HBCU: Does Diversity and Inclusion Impact the Relevance of HBCUs?”; “Beyond the Choir: Developing a Culture of Inclusion and Excellence”; “Repositioning HBCUs for the Future”; “Student Leadership Apprentices: Whose Mentor are You”; “Renovating Academy: Challenges Associated with a Diverse Faculty”; and “Exploring the Chemical Dynamics of an HBCU to the Global marketplace: A Possible Plausible STEM Transition.”
At a reception for summit participants in the Holiday Inn Express Downtown Nashville, Dr. Dennis Raiim, CEO of the Center for Black Student Achievement, wowed the gathering with words of inspiration.
He was followed by Freedom Rider and Civil Rights Activist Dr. Ernest “Rip” Patton, who spoke about his role in organizing the first lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville in the early 1960s.
Later, President Glover, along with summit Chair, Dr. Jewell Winn, presented awards and gifts to sponsors and supporters including AT&T, NADOHE, HCA, AGB, APLU and the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Source: TSU News Service
About Tennessee State University
With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.