Perks, Privilege, and Publicity: How Students’ Silence is Bought at HBCUs

Author: Brennan E. Wells


Throughout my time at my HBCU I served in student government in senate leadership, attaining Senator of the Year awards consecutively. In other capacities, I served in leadership positions as high as President in various prominent student organizations and honor societies. For my highly visible pursuits and service, I gained recognition and thereby received unparalleled access to opportunities and individuals on campus in comparison to the student body. In my arduous pursuit to climb the social, academic and political ladder and aid the student body at my HBCU I was unaware to a double blindness. This blindness encompassed the axiom that, it was not a couple of bad apples that spoiling the batch nor rules that needed to change to see much-needed improvements, but it was the barrel the apples sat in and the system that housed these rules. Suffice it say, the improvements I sought did not come to pass regardless of how I may have personally benefited. To aid the next student activist to come after me I offer my lessons learned in my three part expose that is to follow. For as Dr. Huey P. Newton knew, the power has always and will always be with the people, so their blinders must be removed and assisted out of Plato’s Cave. May the words that follow achieve that.


Part One:

Many Americans today have not had the opportunity to attend college much less a Historically Black College and/or University, commonly known as an HBCU. Here in America the “Black experience” is not something personally experienced but is confined to the classrooms and degree programs at majority institutions that teach African and African American studies. Some may see this as enough to understand and comprehend the whole of African American culture, but this is a misguided belief. It is one thing to study a subject, but another matter entirely to live a “Black experience”. One could reason, that surely then the “Black experience” could be found within and outside of the classroom at the very establishments meant to nurture the Black mind, but no, HBCUs do not effectively, if at all, teach their own about themselves and cannot reproduce a black school of thought, nor successfully uncover a black experience. Hence, when the question of why do African Americans loot their “own” neighborhood arises or perhaps the quandary of why so many inner cities are stricken with the triple plague of under employment, crime, and under education both White and Black America is left speechless.

In this first installment in expose, I will focus on perks. Perks may have various different definitions, but for the purposes of this article, it is defined as unearned monetary or academic advantages based on the politics of respectability. At HBCUs, despite the mainstay narrative that HBCUs are struggling financially, many HBCUs still manage to inflate administrative salaries, slash equity in professors compensation and quietly as it is kept, keep a handful of students flush with money. From unadvertised scholarships dollars, paying student athletes for participation in sports, using student fee allocations to pay coaches salaries, paying for students room and board for “elected” positions, paid conference trips for select students, and divesting appropriations from the social sciences and humanities into STEM departments.

Some HBCU institutions employ all of these tactics to the detriment of the college or university, while other HBCUs only put into practice a few of the previously mentioned. The question may be raised early then, as to how are students who receive these benefits kept silent. To such an inquiry I say that all politics are local. And true to form, students who receive perks from their institutions will not speak out or speak ill of their college or university for fear of reprisal. In sum, why bite the hand that feeds you when you are living on easy street. And I mean easy street in every sense of the word. While the monies needed to attend higher education may increase, so too does the amenities and luxuries, that coincidently find themselves being utilized by these select students.
The rising cost of attendance at a majority of HBCUs are rising every single year, in some cases, every semester; these students who receive perks are unburdened to the challenges of the everyday college student.


So at institutions that can least afford to, HBCUs separate students internally. Those who have and those students who have not. When this occurs, the students placed on pedestals to “advocate” for the students who have not, cannot do so in a sincere manner, because they can no longer relate, may not care to do so or simply are disconnected from the struggles of the everyday college student.


At the end of the day, we are left with administrations directing the intellectual capital at institutions of higher learning for their benefit. When HBCUs are left in charge of administrators, HBCUs are molded in their image, which means, outsourced labor, privatized housing, privatized meal service, privatized athletic operations, and privatized consulting. These third parties businesses are in business to make money and have little empathy for the students whom they are serving because profit margins trump all. So there will be no new solutions to the new problems we face, students will remain by in large disengaged and the obstacles that must be overcome in Black education will remain intact. Speeches and posturing mirroring actual change about reform and graduation rates will become the new normal in the long and short run.


The Black student is silent while his/her house slowly rots from the inside out for lack of radical accountability, radical intellectual honesty, a deep interest in development and parity between the quality and quantity of students recruited. In the second part of this three-part expose, I venture further into this calamity, which is black education at HBCUs.


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