On a brisk spring afternoon underneath the trees that surround the John B. Coleman library conversing with a friend and scholar, the discussion drifted toward the role of the African-American intellectual at HBCUs. With a curriculum at your HBCU not named Morehouse and Spellman, one is admonished to be on time to class, indoctrinated into a culture of respectability and tacitly told to accept a range of limited possibilities for your current condition and future. One of those limited possibilities being that, only STEM majors leave our mostly agricultural and mechanical HBCUs with any return on investment in their education, which follows a national trend focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math.
One of the few benefits of spending so much of your existence below the Mason-Dixon Line is the wisdom passed down from elders, and one such maxim is, if you follow the crowd, you will go no further than the crowd. So it is no wonder, many HBCUs face the same challenges of declining enrollment, financial instability, inadequate endowments and lackluster alumni giving. The solution used to buttress the myriad of issues mentioned is to continue down the path most often traveled in the hopes of striking success. In short, the leadership in place elected but more often selected and entrusted to blaze a path forward follow the same methods of universities with larger enrollments, larger endowments, greater percentages of alumni contributing to their university and finances that encourage risks and innovation.
The second debilitating hindrance to the intellectual at your majority of HBCUs not named Morehouse or Spellman is the pivot from cultural, societal and deep thinking to STEM fields, which is reflected in the lack of resources, attention, focus, scholarship funding, infrastructure development and recruiting in the soft sciences and humanities . It would be safe to presume that the most developed buildings on your HBCU campus are not the social science and humanities buildings, but rather the engineering or science buildings and a close third being the business building. It is no wonder, in a day and age in the African-American community, that cries out for policy solutions in the area of employment, education, criminal justice reform, equity in funding public education, gun violence, and other societal ills, the brain trust known as the HBCU has no retort. For we have sold our social solutions for STEM grants and tirelessly endeavoring to recreate a black silicon valley.
We are the leaders we have been looking for. The solutions to our ills can and must come from within, but how can they ? At too many HBCUs, students question the relevancy of studying their history and swap short gains for long-term short comings. Too many HBCUs go without major and master degree programs in African and African-American studies. Far too many HBCUS under fund English departments and cannot find enough faculty to staff foreign languages. We produce class after class of students with less and less knowledge of themselves.
My friend and I concluded at the end of our critical look at the academic environment at our HBCU and those like it, that it would it be dependent on the scholar to take their education into their own hands. To delve into the books and topics not discussed in class, or as we termed it, an independent study until graduation. But not many will take this challenge upon themselves to reimagine their education and their world. If that is truly the case, then this stop-gap measure will have to suffice until forward thinking and planning can bring forth long term solutions. The intellectual capital needed to change realities in the African-American community are already abound, but are only in need of investments.