The HBCU president must be many things to many people, but especially to students. At schools where 70, 80, and sometimes even 90 percent of the students are Pell Grant eligible, it’s no shock that presidents find themselves being parents to some, mentors to others, and sadly but thankfully, sometimes even a savior – providing the last bit of hope to those who’ve considered giving up and in.
It goes without saying that our presidents are our role models. Many hail from rough backgrounds like our own. Poverty. Gang violence. Single-parent homes. However, their successes, not just within the academy but throughout their entire journeys, proves that it’s really not about where we come from, but where we want to go and how hard we’re willing to work to get there.
Over the past two days, many HBCU presidents have been meeting with Donald Trump and other government leaders at a “fly-in” led-in-part by HBCU alumna, Omarosa Manigault. Though we, the students, appreciate Trump and his administration’s uncanny openness, we can’t help but welcome this gesture with concern and apprehension. And we’re sorry that you may feel that you’re in the direct line of our fire, frustration, and fury.
We cannot help but acknowledge that this meeting was arranged, scheduled, and (on occasions) changed at the whims of the administration without much, if any, prior communication with the presidents and appropriate constituents. Because of the sporadic nature of it all, many presidents were unable to conduct surveys and gather input from their schools and the communities they serve, furthering our uneasy feeling about such a meeting.
Moreover, we cannot pretend to have forgotten the things Trump has said and done to our sisters, those by birth and choice; citizens by blood, plane, and boat; and Syrian brothers and those like them who are facing internal and external political oppression abroad. We cannot forget the xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, and homophobic rhetoric that will continue to infiltrate our minds and timelines over the next four years.
We cannot wholeheartedly believe that Betsy Devos, who incorrectly refers to HBCUs as testaments of “school choice,” has our best interest at heart — or even knows how to do so. We do recognize, more than ever, the need to be politically involved, inclined, engaged and mobilized.
We look forward to that glorious day when we have collectively joined forces to negotiate with who we want and how we want. Amongst us, we have academics and scholars, chief financial officers and small business owners, astronauts and senators, and even Academy award winners; surely we can develop a stable foundation to support our own institutions. We hope you will lead that effort, and of course, include us.
We hope you will lead us in that effort and include us along the way.