Author: Brennan E. Wells
To be out of sight is to be out of mind. In other words, to be absent from someone’s presence increases the likelihood that you will be forgotten. One counter to this piece of conventional wisdom is to leave a mark in the hearts and minds of others; this will ensure that you are a lasting memory on those you come into contact with. For we know, as Maya Angelou tells us, people may forget your exact words, but what will not be forgotten is the way you make someone else feel. So it is your character, brand, and reputation that will carry you when you works, words and presence cannot. These unwritten rules are lost upon too many students attending HBCUs, who are more often leaving behind a difficult personal or academic past to start anew.
Yet, to be a part of the privileged elite class at an HBCU is to receive the mentoring to receive these unwritten rules and garner the publicity to remain a mainstay in the hearts and minds throughout the university and with anyone coming to recruit for opportunities.
In the final chapter of this expose on how students’ silence is bought at HBCUs we arrive at publicity. Part I divulged the perks and advantages the privileged few receive disproportionately at HBCUs, while part II dissected the privileges indulged by the select few which all culminate in the publicity they receive. Publicity is last in this epic devaluation of the Black brain trust because it is the icing on the cake. The icing on the cake in that the first promoted at an HBCU is the privileged elite.
The tired pseudo truism, that we must work twice as hard as “them” to get just as far plays a heavy role in an ideology that allows for the practice of elitism at HBCUs. Far too many HBCUs are evaluating themselves on the standards of PWIs. Choosing to fight a losing battle of comparisons, the HBCU must put on display their elite to prove a counter-narrative and the elitist student is all too welcome to take on this role.
What in fact does publicity look like in reality one may ask? Students who represent the student body as well as the school as the King and Queen. Students who seemingly always participate in conferences for academic or professional purposes. Students of athletic ability. Students who “serve” in the highest levels of mock government. Students of the proper major, thereby receiving an absorbent amount of limited resources. Some of these opportunities are advertised and others are not. To put it bluntly, this is a return to the blue vein societies, but these exclusive social workings are not restricted to Howard and Oberlin.
Grant it, it is some respects in the better interests to promote high-achieving individuals that come from HBCUs to assist with moral and fundraising. But this is done in excess and not equitably. This promotes the idea, that there is a right way and a wrong way to be a student on campus. A correct major and an incorrect one. That one’s wardrobe contain the proper dress and nonverbal communication is of a certain mannerism.
In turn, a minority of students receiving advantages from their institution, to a hedge of political protection and power to exert their wants and wishes upon their respective campuses, to advancement opportunities that will spring broad their careers after graduation, which manifest themselves five, ten and fifteen years later down the line. This learned behavior allows Blacks to engage in White flight as much as their counterpart. Differing from White Democrats only in the amount of church appearances they make. And shaming a community they are only a part of in color. If we are to disrupt the issues at hand, we must start at the root, the HBCU brain trust.
As I will often say to one, I say unto all. The day to begin again can be today. Today can be the day we have the conversation if an athletic department is a worthy investment for an HBCU. Paul Quin College made their decision, but will the rest. The methodology of B. T. Washington has given us engineers, but as Henry Louis Gates knows, money and status do not solve social issues, so will we invest in the intellectual capital of the social sciences to solve our social issues? If we love our HBCUs as we claim to, will our HBCUs love us in return enough to evict Big Business off our campuses? Are we satisfied with some students in free housing and other students sleeping in the library?
If we continue in the way of the PWI, the HBCU will always be fighting for second place. Our way forward is found in the answers to those questions. If we refuse to answer the questions that arise in each chapter of this expose the rotting will continue. I alone cannot answer these various, but if we are all that we say we are then the right decision will be made.