Thanksgiving break ends, and the holiday break races towards millions of black students at predominantly white campuses nationwide who are still working to balance activism and academics within the #StudentBlackOut movement. Boards and presidents, white classmates and alumni, we can only assume, are desperately praying that the return of college basketball and extended hiatus from campus will meld to calm the tempers of black students at public, private and Ivy League campuses in their quest for equity and respectability as students and citizens.
The movement, while necessary, historic and breathtaking, has been short on data and long on determination over the last few weeks – we’ve heard a lot of anecdotes about ground-level racism levied by white students, not enough black faculty members in tenured positions of advisement and influence, and mostly, complaints about a lack of ‘safe spaces’ on campuses built and maintained, historically, to propagate wealth and segregation for white Americans.
So as brothers and sisters return home to regenerate and reflect on the work they’ve done thus far, here’s hoping that two sets of statistics center their approach in the coming weeks and months of 2016. These stats may, hopefully, shed new perspective on just how much we need to have the ongoing, uncomfortable conversation about HBCUs vs. PWIs.
Enrollment data posted by the federal Department of Education shows that as of last fall, 92 percent of all black college students were enrolled at non-HBCU colleges and universities. A recent Washington Post editorial penned by former Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert and HU Dean of Education Leslie T. Fenwick, suggests that 96 percent of tenured black faculty work at HBCUs; a number that is eerily consistent with data featured in a recent Mother Jones profile of ethnic diversity among faculty at a sample of PWIs nationwide.
There are a lot of economic, geographic, and social factors that play into these huge numbers, but if we look at them for face value, we’re left with some striking assumptions and questions. Why is it that so many PWIs are wiling to recruit, accept and partially pay for the education of so many black students, but appear to be steadfast against the hiring of black faculty at the same rates? Why can white schools take hard-earned or borrowed money from black families in the name of a ‘a more valuable degree,’ or ‘an environment that most closes matches the real world,’ but black professors are generally barred from being paid to teach within this same context?
And most importantly, if choice and accessibility in white spaces and campuses is so readily available, does that mean a healthy number of black professors, who more often than not earn advanced and terminal degrees from PWIs, are ‘settling’ to teach at HBCUs because of segregated hiring policies at PWIs? And let’s just say that most black professors are indeed ‘settling’ for lower salaries, more intensive workloads, fewer research and teaching resources and fewer prepared students – mathematically, with more than 3,000 colleges and universities nationwide, do they really have to settle even if they are rejected for teaching opportunities in their home state, and every state which borders them?
Data this disparate creates the assumption that choice, real or imagined, is being heavily influenced by elements beyond our own desires and personal cultural missions. We can assume that some black professors nationwide are choosing to work at HBCUs, just as some black professors choose to work at PWIs. Without knowing just how many black professors choose to build careers at black colleges, versus those apparently forced into these schools by segregation, we’re left with telling stats on where black students and faculty want to be, versus where they are actually wanted.
And this is what makes the HBCU vs. PWI dialog so important and complex; the same mission, opportunities and resources which apparently repel black nine out of every 10 black students seem to attract nine out of every 10 black tenured professors. Nine out of 10 black students are willing to pay PWIs for education, but nine out of 10 ranking black professors are being paid by HBCUs.
Black students at PWIs are looking for more tenured black faculty on campus, while HBCUs are looking for more black students. Does it get any more ironic?