The Digest 50 – The Top HBCU Moments of 2017

Our annual year-end tradition continues with the Digest 50, a recap of the top 50 moments, people and achievements over the last year at historically black colleges and universities.

1. A photo opp for the ages. More than 70 HBCU presidents meet with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office for preliminary introductions during an ‘HBCU Fly-In.’ The event drew national attention from supporters as a critical moment for preserving HBCU federal funding and support initiatives, and detractors as a ‘photo opp’ which yielded no additional money for black colleges. But all agreed that the event, a first for HBCU leaders, made black colleges a national topic of conversation for substantive dialog on racial equity, the future of higher education, and political gamesmanship in black communities.

2. Betsy DeVos is booed at Bethune-Cookman. Months after the fly-in, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made her first commencement appearance at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, where she was roundly booed and disrupted throughout her speech, and which led led to a national conversation on black respectability, political dissent and administrative approaches to campus culture.

3. Hampton joins the Big South. The biggest HBCU athletic move in the last 30 years involves one of the most successful programs in modern black college sports history.

4. A rough year for the CIAA. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association had a rough year in 2017, first for its response to the controversial HB2 ‘Bathroom Bill’ in NC which many criticized as late and halfhearted, to its stance on halftime marching band performances and eventual reversal.

5. Central State is HBCU of the Year. Central State University was named the 2017 HBCU of the Year, after making substantial gains in enrollment, finance and workforce development for its students. Months after the announcement, the city announced a new annexing plan with the City of Xenia, to increase its earnings and partnerships with civic organizations.

6. Cheyney Survives. A threat of losing accreditation, dwindling enrollment numbers and mounting debt were not enough to shut down the nation’s oldest HBCU, which now has a year to demonstrate strength in raising money and administrative organization.

7. Maryland HBCU Lawsuit headed to arbitration. A federal judge rules that Maryland’s illegal system of separate-but-unequal support for its four public black colleges will be resolved by an independent special master.

8. Delaware State out front on DACA, DREAMERS debate. Delaware State University was the first historically black college to join a coalition of colleges to enroll and grant scholarship support to children of undocumented citizens. With changes to the federal government’s policy on immigration and residency status, DSU was in the spotlight for facing an enrollment drop of nearly 100 students, and tuition losses of nearly $8 million.

9. Spelman emerges as the conscience of the HBCU community.  In May, an anonymous Twitter account sparked a national conversation on the role of colleges in prohibiting and responding to allegations of sexual assault. That conversation turned into a difficult revelations about gender identity politics and cultural obstacles to keeping campus’ safe in the Atlanta University Center. Months later, college leaders announce plans to admit transgender students, and last month students concluded a hunger strike protest aimed at increasing food access for fellow students.

10. Xavier Professor Discovers Breast Cancer Treatment Breakthrough – XULA Biology Chair Subha Ireland was part of a research team which this fall discovered a new plant-based ‘super cocktail’ which may limit the number of women who choose to get preventative mastectomies or who experience severe side effects associated with breast cancer treatment.

11. Louisiana eyes big changes for Grambling State. New programs and enrollment goals were announced this year for GSU, and could be signs of success or struggle for the campus.

12. North Carolina A&T breaks sponsored research record. The Aggie research machine outpaced its annual performance standards, with more than $62 million earned in grants and contracts during the 2016-17 academic year.

13. HBCUs work to overcome racial infighting on diverse campuses. Kentucky State University and Lincoln University of Missouri were two campuses where racial tensions impacted administration and news coverage of their issues.

14. Supreme Court gerrymandering decision empowers HBCU voter blocs. Justices ruled two districts in North Carolina as unlawfully designed to ostracize black voters. As voting power shifts throughout the south, the decision could make HBCUs more of a central hub for mobilizing, educating black voters.

15. HBCU alumni giving on the rise. Hampton University’s Day of Giving campaign netted the school more than $1 million in a single day, one of several story lines outlining how graduates are elevating the conversation about HBCU fundraising capacity and busting the myth that HBCU supporters don’t give back.

16. HBCUs join campus free speech debate. After Betsy DeVos’ appearance at Bethune-Cookman, HBCU students around the country made their opposition to politically controversial speakers loud and clear – launching black colleges firmly into the national campus free speech debate.

17. Southern Human Jukebox inks million-dollar sponsorship deal. One of the world’s most famous marching bands put its brand to work this fall, signing a multi-year, million-dollar marketing deal with a local fast food chain.

18. Omarosa and HBCUs. Omarosa Manigault-Newman has a brief, controversial tenure with HBCUs in 2017 as one of the direct liaisons between the HBCU community and the White House. From sparring with alumni to organizing the annual conference, the former Trump staffer was never far removed from conversations on White House-HBCU engagement.

19. Third time a charm for Larry Robinson at FAMU. The three-time interim president finally gets the nod as the permanent choice at Florida’s flagship HBCU. But not without controversy.

20. John Wilson fired at Morehouse. Controversial HBCU leader John Wilson was fired as president of Morehouse College, following years of whispers about dissatisfaction over his tenure. His departure created a public and messy fight between students, media, and alumni of the college, searching for a way to maintain tradition while accepting hard truths about the future of HBCU leadership.

21. North Carolina Central’s David Bailey becomes a national hero. Capitol Hill Police Officer David Bailey saved the lives of several federal lawmakers in June, becoming the face of bravery in a growing culture of random gun violence.

22. Alabama State breaks off a business relationship with Steve Harvey. A business partnership between the school and the iconic comedian burned up less than a year after it was established, thanks to a public feud over money owed, services rendered and a president fired.

23. HBCUs join national black male teacher training initiative. A $1.5 million grant from the W.K Kellogg Foundation helped to create a new program at five HBCUs, aimed at increasing the number of black male teachers in secondary systems in underserved cities and towns nationwide.

24. Enrollment up at HBCUs nationwide. A spike in first-year and transfer enrollment at several HBCUs creates excitement among HBCU advocates nationwide.

25. Kentucky State launches center on race, education and democratic ideal. Formed by KSU president M. Christopher Brown II and led by Historian Crystal deGregory, the Atwood Institute for Race, Education, and the Democratic Ideal is a new-age research center designed to analyze the role of black colleges at the key intersections of American self-awareness and identification.

26. Ruth Simmons leads PWI-to-HBCU leadership movement. Former Brown University President Ruth Simmons was named as interim and eventually permanent president of Prairie View A&M University this year, leading a surge of leaders from the Ivy League and large state PWIs joining black college executive ranks.

27. HBCU scientists speak. STEM professionals with roots at historically black colleges and universities joined the Digest’s ‘Voices of STEM Excellence’ series this year, the first series of its kind exposing black college science and tech talent.

28. Georgia college mergers threaten future of state HBCUs. A consolidation plan for Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University has Savannah State University, and puts into question the merger of Albany State University and Darton State College.

29. Sex and weed at Southern University. Southern University claimed major national headlines for business and scandal in 2017. In March, SU became the nation’s first historically black college authorized to produce medical marijuana for research and for healthcare enterprises – a move which could net the cash-strapped millions in revenue. Three months later – the school was rocked by allegations of a former executive and student being involved in a sex tape scandal, which pulled back the layers on students and alumni complaints involving campus oversight.

30. BET Debuts ‘The Quad.’ The network’s controversial depiction of life at an HBCU brought viewers a scandal-charged look into administration, student culture and social issues – but not before drawing the ire of prominent HBCU leaders.

31. NBA Players Association announces Top 100 HBCU player combine. A partnership between the SIAC, SWAC and NBA players launched the first training combine exclusively for Division I and II athletes from black colleges.

32. Talladega Marching Band performs in Trump inaugural parade. In one of the most controversial moments of the year, the Marching Tornadoes performed in the parade and earned shade from virtually the entire HBCU community.

33. Presidential Changes Continue at High Rates. A common theme over the last five years continued in 2017 – HBCU presidents and chancellors changing addresses within the sector.

34. Prairie View A&M students elected to city council. Two students won seats on Prairie View’s city council, demonstrating the power of student voting presence and potential impact on governance at all levels.

35. Howard University heads west with Google partnership. Howard University announced a new partnership with Google, creating a residency program for undergraduates to move one step closer to careers in computer science.

36. Johnny Taylor leaves the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The lightning rod HBCU advocate left the largest nonprofit advocacy org for HBCUs this fall, leaving behind a legacy of outspoken legislative and industrial commentary, fundraising and coalition building on behalf of HBCUs.

37. Protests, partnerships and promotions – the NFL-HBCU relationship continues to grow. From the Super Bowl to the Draft, the NFL worked its relationship with black colleges throughout 2017.

38. Paul Quinn forms partnership with Lyft. The international rideshare company agrees to share profits from student-initiated rides in support of scholarships at the college – a unique fundraising model from the campus breaking all of the rules on HBCU administration.

39. Morehouse reigns supreme in international debate. The forensics team from Morehouse College won its fourth international debate title in six years in March, affirming its spot as one of nation’s best training hubs for debate and rhetoric in the country.

40. Big changes at Jackson State. Jackson State saw the arrival of a controversial new president, the firing of a band director, and a historic appointment in its Air Force JROTC program.

41. Lincoln nursing graduates perfect on licensure, postgraduate employment. Seventeen nurses graduated from Lincoln University of Missouri’s undergraduate nursing program in December 2016, and all passed the national licensure exam and earned positions in hospitals and health care practices in the region.

42. Virginia Union appears in NCAA national championship game. A heartbreaking loss to the top team in the country did not diminish the Lady Panthers’ incredible run to the NCAA Division II women’s basketball title game, and its second appearance in the Elite Eight or better in two straight years.

43. Florida Memorial awards posthumous degree to Trayvon Martin. In a nod to social justice and the continuing relationship between the family of Trayvon Martin and the university, the slain teen receives a degree from his mother’s alma mater.

44. Kara McCullough crowned Miss USA. The South Carolina State University alumna became the second HBCU graduate in as many years to take the prestigious title.

45. Wilberforce bounces back. A new federal grant for graduate study and a scathing presidential rebuke of an Ivy League HBCU ‘expert’ put the once-embattled private HBCU in national headlines throughout 2017.

46. Bowie State-Virginia State proves to be HBCU football game of the year. A CIAA rivalry game between two nationally ranked teams and eventual playoff participants gives Division II black college football a major boost.

47. Celebrities show love to HBCUs. NBA players and famous rappers were among the prominent pop culture figures to show love to black colleges this year.

48. Howard leads HBCUs in Peace Corps volunteers. Again. HU holds the title for the sixth consecutive year in student and alumni global social service.

49. Clark Atlanta student-athletes finish careers with perfect GPA. Out of 130 total fall graduates who competed in sports, ten percent of them finished with 4.0 grade point averages.

50. Netflix and HBCU. Black colleges got major coverage by way of the streaming service’s ‘Burning Sands’ feature film in early 2017.  

You May Also Like

FAMU Praise Breaking Reveals the Best of What HBCUs Have Been, and Could Be