Several weeks ago, I wrote an article concerning opening of our elementary and secondary (K-12) schools. The focus of this article is the struggles of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Colleges and universities all over the nation are grappling with ways to address and survive the effects of COVID 19 which is wreaking havoc across the nation. Currently, there are more than 4.3 million cases of COVID 19 infections in the United States, more than 150,000 American citizens have died from COVID 19, and there is no known cure or vaccine to halt the surge and limit the spread of the virus. The death rate from the virus continues to soar and is overwhelming hospitals treating COVID patients and filling mortuaries throughout Texas, Florida, California, and Arizona.
HBCUs are struggling to survive and trying to determine how best to serve a vulnerable, at-risk population. These colleges and universities serve many students who are first generation college students and who are often academically challenged, students who come from impoverished communities and from single family homes with parents who live at or below the federal poverty line. They also serve communities of color where parents and caregivers happen to be front line workers with predisposed health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, heart, kidney and lung disease, and who work under enormously high stress conditions, which makes them even more susceptible to the COVID 19 virus.
Unfortunately, HBCUs do not have large endowments, philanthropic donors, and benefactors as compared to prestigious predominately white colleges and universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or LSU. These institutions of higher learning have little to worry about because they have billions of dollars in their foundations that make it almost impossible to fail during tough times, even during a pandemic. State supported HBCUs on the contrary must rely on state formula driven results, high graduation rates, increased student enrollment and increase in state funding and mandated student fees. HBCUs have no windfall, no parachutes to soften the impact and loses due to catastrophic and tragic events such as COVID 19.
The story is quite different for HBCUs. These institutions of higher learning have been strapped for cash and support long before the appearance of the COVID 19 virus. They have never been adequately funded or enthusiastically supported and yet they have performed and discharged their herculean responsibilities with determination, with devotion, with compassion and with incredible courage.
As a professor who currently teaches and has taught and lectured at several major universities, including Howard University, University of the District of Columbia, Federal City College, Texas A&M at College Station and Southern University, I am well acquainted with the disparities that exist between HBCUs and predominately white institutions of higher learning. There is simply no comparison between the night and day lack of resources among or between these institutions.
During the institution of slavery and shortly after its abolition, HBCUs were established to provide (through education), the development of leadership and equality to serve as instruments for the liberation of a people subjected to a “bondage of the flesh” as well as to a “bondage of the spirit”.
It is from these campuses that have emerged renown African American lawyers, doctors, engineers, dentists, architects, clergymen, teachers, college professors, social workers and many top-notch scholars. These institutions have been characterized as the single most important vehicle, avenue, and factor for the liberation of people of color. From their inception in 1865 onward, none of the HBCUs have had broad public support for their creation and many-faced stern opposition. Though somewhat smaller in numbers compared to white educational institutions, hundreds of HBCUs have endured and today still graduate more African American students than all of the predominantly white institutions combined.
Dr. Herbert Simmons, Jr. is an associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Grambling State University, former President, Grambling State University Faculty Senate and former Chair, Department of Consumer Education and Resource Management, Howard University, Washington, D.C.