As result of the pandemic many HBCUs are cautiously and hopefully opening their doors for the Fall 2020 semester and are resorting to a combination of in person classes and virtual learning. They must do so to combat potential financial losses, although, some schools are offering online classes only. Online classes can present serious challenges for some students who live in rural impoverished communities because of the lack of availability of internet and broadband access where they live and more importantly a lack of funds and resources to purchase and support online learning
Recently I spoke with Grambling State University President, Dr. Richard (Rick) Gallot regarding how the Pandemic will impact opening of the university. Gallot indicated that the campus will open this fall and will adhere to a hybrid approach to learning. Most students will access classes via the internet from their dormitory rooms on campus. Students, teachers and staff will be required to follow and abide by CDC guidelines, such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, practicing good hygiene such as washing of hands, no parties or hosting of mass gatherings, avoiding indoor crowded spaces and sanitizing hard surfaces. Due to the State of Louisiana nursing requirements, nursing students will be required to attend in class face to- to face settings.
President Gallot also mentioned that on campus students are being provided with new state of the art technology through the FEDERAL CARES ACT with computers, tablets and state of the art Wi-Fi internet connections which will allow students to connect to seven devices including smart TV. All sports activities are postponed to spring. Gallot also indicated that dormitories are 90% occupied and online graduate classes are proceeding without interruption
Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans addressing the opening of universities, noted in a statement to Politico, said: “A lot of schools are trying to figure out, can we open safely in the fall knowing that we serve a population that is disproportionately impacted by this disease. Dillard is watching coronavirus rates in Louisiana and will follow state guidelines for schools.”
Recognizing the potential threat of COVID 19, other HBCUs across the nation in consideration of safety and health concerns are optioning to host class entirely online this fall. Some schools have indicated that they will mandate and employ the use of digital thermometers, COVID 19 test kits for students, restructuring of classrooms for social distancing and reducing campus population.
A recent survey by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), conducted with a network of over 37 private HBCUs, including more than 5,000 students, found that 10 % fewer students said they’d return to school if all instruction is online, that students mental and financial well-being was being diminished by the pandemic, and students were three times more likely to consider transferring to a school that’s closer to home”
It is worth noting that many HBCUs representatives are of the considered opinion and warn that a high percentage of students who take time off from school are unlikely to return and graduate, and that many African American students are also having to overcome socioeconomic disparities, thereby exacerbating the effects of the pandemic.
We also note that according to a recent POLITICO/Morning poll, 60 percent of Black voters strongly or somewhat oppose reopening colleges and universities this fall, compared with 48 percent of white voters. When it comes to reopening K-12 schools,66 percent of Black voters are opposed versus 49 percent of whites.
Without question education of minorities is the single most important tool that has been used to liberate people of color from the dungeons of ignorance, grips and depth of poverty. No question, it is so important that we save Historical Black Colleges and Universities, but we must never place the jingle of a few dollars or financial gains over life, safety and public health issues of our students, faculty, and staff. We want our children to be educated but we must always be focused on safely opening our schools. We may be impacted by some of the detriments caused by kids staying at home and learning online, nevertheless the loss of life due to ill equipped, unprepared and unsafe schools due to COVID 19 is totally unacceptable.
Once again, we must pray mightily, asking Almighty God to help and guide us during this crisis situation, to protect our children, faculty and staff, and to help us to do the right thing, to make the right decisions and leave the rest and right results up to God who has the whole world in his hands. Students, faculty, and staff be safe!!
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.