Author; Brennan E. Wells;
As sure as there is life, there will be death. This fact of life does not temper the hurt of the loved ones and friends lost but serves as an ever-present reminder that tomorrow is not promised. This is especially true at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), which has seen two individuals apart of the PVAMU family perish. Along with the outcry of those who were directly and indirectly connected to the events comes well wishes, prayers, and statements of support. This is true to form in instances such as these. Coupled with the normal response of a community impacted by physical violence are the stages of grief. I say this having spent time on the campus of PVAMU when such an unfortunate occurrence have taken place. Yet, despite all of the statements of support and well wishes, there is little talk of solutions.
Do not be mistaken or led astray by calls for increased police protection and safety. The focal point of policing in this day in age is not centered in solving crimes. Policing in the 21st century is active in the prevention of crime more than anything else. If a crime is solved in the process of prevention, then this is only icing on the cake. Further, on this point, we must recall that the call for criminal justice reform was the result of the rampant police involvement in the neighborhoods where people of color reside. In short, more police officers do not, I repeat, do not decrease crime. The United States knows this for certain. The crackdown on crime and increased prison population did not see a decrease in crime.
Undereducation and economic castration is the “mother” and “father” of violence in America. Included in the twin drivers of crime are student inequality, monopolies on campus masquerading as businesses, the rising cost of attendance, and the lack luster academic services provided to students. Throughout my time at PVAMU I brought awareness to those issues. These issues added together amount to become the great moral issue of our time and students at HBCUs are not shielded from this.
Students with few economic opportunities other than refund checks (if a student is so lucky to receive that) will be willing to engage in activities to sustain a decent way of life that they are accustomed to. Some argue that nothing stops a bullet like a job. Ensuring that a student is receiving a direct deposit every two weeks will give a student a ray of hope and the basics to sustain themselves. The only issue with this is, it is not the entire picture that must be taken into effect when considering African-Americans, two, the jobs available to students at HBCUs, especially PVAMU are hard to come by, thirdly, jobs that students would be so lucky to acquire do not pay a living wage. With these three factors combined together, it is hard for a job at PVAMU or other HBCUs to stop a bullet. When we speak on solutions to curbing violence, we must include in the discussion a wide availability of student jobs that pay a living wage.
Moreover, the undereducation taking place at PVAMU and other HBCUs are harder to spot at first glance, but the educational disparities are present. To begin down the path of exploring the undereducation piece, we must first look at admissions. Yes, PVAMU, like many other HBCUs have a mission of educating African-American youth, hence the admissions requirements are tailored to ensure this mission is carried out in practice. Though this might be true, this does not relieve PVAMU and other HBCUs from raising the bar to push African-American youth in the right direction. With a heightened focus on academic pursuits, violence will be tempered.
Secondly, the brand of the too many HBCUs is centered on the social aspects of college life. One coming to an HBCU is expecting a “black experience”, only to find out that Black is a state of mind, deed and actions, and way of life. A “black experience” cannot be manufactured to fit an HBCU stereotype. This pursuit and lack of brand management lead students to create their own “black experience”. This experience is more often than not centered on excessive parties, absences from class, and rampant drug use. Thirdly, the workload placed on professors at far too many HBCUs prevent professors from offering their very best. These components taken together lead to undereducation.
It is no wonder that crime in the city of Prairie View (which includes PVAMU) has increased 14%, but there is hope. By investing money in students and not stadiums, there can be a return to a safe learning environment. Students lobbied the Texas State Legislature to increase fees to pay for an unneeded stadium at PVAMU so the same can be done to increase academic services and jobs to students on campus. New vendors can be lobbied to provide food service at a fixed rate, and a housing provider who can provide excellent service without raising rental rates annually. Increased professional development, student groups, and counseling tailored fitted to the students of today, not yesteryear is sorely needed. Equity in professor salaries so the attention of professors can be on their students rather than the hunt for a better job. These suggestions only skim the surface of what can and should be done. The opportunities for solutions are endless.
Thoughts, prayers, well wishes, statements of support and outcry is understood, but HBCUs must play the long game when it comes to crafting an environment that protects the sanctity of the HBCU environment. Continued inattention to the core reasons why violence occurs will only see it spread in a viciousness way. We owe it to the lost ones and to the future to do more.