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Diversity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

MBPortraitClose2By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Why is it that people assume that Historically White Institutions are diverse, yet in the same breath assume that Historically Black Institutions are not?  And, when I say people — I mean all kinds of people — of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.  If you take a look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions (HWIs), you’ll find that most are not that diverse unless they are located in urban areas.  These institutions, although legally no longer segregated, are far from integrated — especially the more elite, selective institutions.  If you look at the faculty of HWIs, it is not heavily integrated.  Most tenured faculty members are still White and male. 

However, if you look closely at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), you’ll find student bodies that boast considerable diversity — especially if you examine the public HBCUs.  According to statistics gathered by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, for example, 8 percent of public HBCU student enrollment is White, 2 percent is Latino and 1 percent is Asian.  Of note, over the past 30 years, Latinos have increased their presence at HBCUs by 124 percent.  Moreover, the faculty at HBCUs, both public and private institutions, has always been diverse.  HBCUs have opened their doors to the best faculty regardless of racial or ethnic background and continue to do so.  Among HBCUs, Blacks (including Africans and Caribbeans as well as African Americans) make up roughly 60 percent of the faculty, with Whites accounting for 30 percent and Latinos and Asians the remaining 10 percent.  It would be very hard to find this kind of diversity at most HWIs.

Yet, time and time again, HBCUs are looked upon as “segregated” environments that don’t represent the “real world”.  If you have been studying the projected Census data, you know that HBCUs now represent the very real world of the future.  By 2020, the percentage of people of color in our country will be 40 percent and by 2040 the percentage will increase to 50 percent.  HBCUs are preparing students for a very realistic world.

In order to counter misconceptions, HBCU leaders must promote the diversity on their campuses.  This is ever more important given falling enrollments at some HBCUs.  Many students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds could benefit from the nurturing, yet challenging environments at HBCUs as well as the lower tuition. 

Some worry that becoming more diverse will dilute the “HBCUness” of HBCUs — true,  but I doubt that diluting will take place to any great extent.  Culture runs deep and traditions can be maintained with effort.  Just look at the nation’s Historically White Institutions — many have “integrated” but continue to, unfortunately, hold fast to only the culture on which they were founded.  I have a feeling that HBCUs can maintain diversity — thrive from it — and still be the centers of African American culture that they have been for decades.

It is High Time for a Black Woman on the High Court

By Dr. Pamela D. Reed

“Make me do it.”
-Barack Hussein Obama

pamela-reed08The relevance of the above challenge issued by then-Senator Barack Obama will soon become obvious.

For now, let me first congratulate Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the soon-to-be vacant seat of retiring high court Associate Justice David Souter.

Obama’s historic nomination of the first Latina to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) comes on the heels of a months-long full court press by Hispanic organizationslike the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, not to mention Women’s groups, all advocating for just such a groundbreaking pick.

No sooner than it was determined that Hispanics accounted for 7.4 percent of the 131 million people who voted in November–of which 67 percent cast their votes for the Obama-Biden ticket–the Hispanic judicial lobby moved into high gear.

Mind you, these numbers pale in comparison to African Americans who comprised a record 12.1 percent of the total vote, 95 percent of whom voted for Obama.

But who’s counting, right?

Ramona Romero, Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) president, certainly was. Almost immediately, the HNBA launched the Hispanic Appointments Project, and she reached out to President-elect Obama, only 10 days after the election–and months before he took office.

“The presence of a Latino or Latina at the conference table could add a needed ‘special voice’ to the Supreme Court’s deliberations and decisions– a voice that can speak about the law as it affects U.S. Hispanics with the authority that only firsthand knowledge can provide,” she wrote.

In other words, they “made” him do it…and good for them (and hopefully for all who would otherwise be marginalized judicially).

Of course, Team Obama insists that politics did not factor into the Sotomayor nomination, and that the president simply–organically– chose “the most qualified person for the job.” And, in all fairness, President Obama might very well have made the same choice, absent the very public lobbying effort.

But since Hispanics left nothing to chance, we’ll never know, will we?

Whatever the case–assuming that Sotomayor is confirmed to the SCOTUS–there will now be two representatives of the female perspective on that august judicial body, and one of the Hispanic. In my view, this is a beautiful thing.

What is profoundly problematic, however, is the fact that there is still not one solitary Black advocate.

Indeed, this is a glaring and unacceptable omission on the high court. Sure, there’s Clarence Thomas, but, in every way that matters, his is not a “Black seat.”

There, I said it.

I mean, we all know that his has been the deciding vote in a number of decisions that have all but wiped out affirmative action and other racial gains made during the tenure of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the SCOTUS. (And isn’t it just the cruelest of ironies that Thomas was the Sr. Bush’s choice to replace Marshall, the civil rights lion?)

It is as Romero said, “being Hispanic doesn’t always mean that you are grounded in the culture.”

By the same token, and for all intents and purposes, Clarence Thomas should not count in the “minority” tally on the Supreme Court, as he has shown no evidence of being willing or able to articulate–or appreciate, even– the predominant African American world view, shaped by centuries of enslavement, Jim Crow and continuing racial discrimination.

And am I the only one who finds it troublesome that, of the four widely reported finalists for the open SCOTUS seat–all women, three of whom were White–there was not one African American among the elite group?

Not one.

This is all the more vexing when one considers that, according to a Pew Research Center report, “overall, among all racial, ethnic and gender groups, Black women had the highest voter turnout rate in November’s election [68.8 percent]–a first.”

So, are we to assume that there are no “qualified” African American female jurists worthy of even symbolic consideration for the Supreme Court? (And we are way beyond symbolism at this point.)

What about the Honorable Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, the 57-year-old Rhode Island Superior Court Justice, who–in April–was recommended by both Rhode Island senators for the First Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals?

Then there is the Honorable Ann Claire Williams, the 59 year-old U.S. Seventh Circuit Appellate Judge and globally acclaimed legal scholar. Among her many public service efforts, Judge Williams lead and taught at the first Kenyan Women’s Trial Advocacy Program for domestic violence attorneys. Williams has also been a prosecutor and faculty member at both Northwestern and John Marshall Schools of Law.

Of course, President Obama knows of these and many other imminently qualified Black female esquires worthy of elevation to the high court-including several law school deans. The question is: Why did the Obama Administration not even float any African American names?

Could it be because Black advocacy groups didn’t “make” him?

After all– when asked if he would be able to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East–Obama himself advised this very course of action to the questioner at a presidential campaign rally. Syndicated columnist Amy Goodman recounts this story in her commentary “Make Obama Keep his Promises.”

Obama is said to have repeated the famous story of how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt–upon hearing A. Philip Randolph’s assessment of the plight of Black America and what corrective actions were needed–reportedly issued this very same challenge to the civil rights legend.

Specifically, FDR reportedly challenged Randolph with this call to arms: “I’ve heard everything you’ve said tonight…and I agree with everything that you’ve said, including my capacity to be able to right many of these wrongs and to use my power and the bully pulpit… But I would ask one thing of you…and that is, go out and make me do it.”

The presidents’ words echo and confirm Frederick Douglass’ learned declaration of almost a century earlier: “Power concedes nothing without demand.”

African Americans would do well to remember these historic lessons during the presidency of Barack Obama–along with the contemporary counsel of Sandra Finley, President and CEO of the League of Black Women, in her article “The League of Black Women’s Role in President Obama’s Administration: Homecoming.”
“You’ve watched this amazing election unfold for two years, don’t blink now,” Finley wrote. “The President-elect has promised to talk directly to you. Pay attention. Call, email and write your legislators. Tell them exactly how you want them to vote on funding health care, education, and your jobs in this economy.”

I would add that we must also make our voices heard with regard to the changing composition of the Supreme Court. Otherwise, we will emerge from the Obama era with Clarence Thomas still the lone Black face among the nine.

And if we were to sit by mutely and idly, allowing this miscarriage of justice to happen, we would deserve it. But, in that event, at least we would still have our “I was there” buttons, our Obama calendars/posters, and our J. Crew cardigan twin sets to show to our children and grandchildren.

What I am trying to say here is that African American organizations, particularly women’s, must get past the novelty of President Barack Hussein Obama, Black Man. Only then will we begin to place collective expectations on him, just as all valued political constituencies do in the American body politic.

As Finley wrote, Black women, have “worked together to help lift and elect Barack Obama to the highest office in the land.” Yes, we have done the heavy lifting, which is nothing new.

Zora Neale Hurston observed, in her classic novel Their Eyes were Watching God, that the Black woman has historically been “de mule uh de world.”

Well, I say, no more. I agree with Finley: “This is our moment too.” In other words, it is high time for a Black woman to sit on the high court.

And this is not to dismiss the fact that President Obama has numerous highly visible, highly placed Black women in his administration, like senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, United Nations Ambassador, Dr. Susan Rice, or Desiree Rogers, White House social secretary, among others. Without question, these are all very important appointments, many of them firsts. For this, he should be applauded.

But the Supreme Court is a horse of another color.

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic, and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

Black History, No More?

By Pamela Reed

pamela-reed08Now that Barack Obama is President of the United States, why don’t we just pretend that America wasn’t built on slaveholding?

If the spate of recent “post-racial” articles suggesting that we need no longer commemorate the African American struggle for freedom and equality in this country is any indication, this seems to be where we’re heading.

This is a classic case of the phenomenon called selective history/memory, or as some have termed it, historical amnesia.

We’ve been bombarded with calls to end affirmative action and claims of reverse racism. Indeed, it seems like just yesterday I was writing in defense of Black History Month, which is now deemed racist, counterproductive, and/or irrelevant by some prominent African Americans, as did Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist (and former editorial page editor) Cynthia Tucker in a commentary earlier this year.

Most recently, Corey Dade’s Wall Street Journal article “Civil-Rights Gains Test New Memorials’ Relevance,” poses the following curious question: “Does the America of 2009, led by an African-American president, need any more museums or monuments to the struggle for civil rights?”

Dade’s piece details the fundraising hurdles confronting the organizers of the proposed Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR) in Atlanta. According to Doug Shipman, would-be executive director of the future CCHR, primary among them is the question that is apparently uppermost in the minds of some potential donors: “Why does it [the Civil Rights Movement] matter today?”

Perhaps this explains why, presently, public and private pledges total less than half of the $125 million needed for the completion of the historic 100,000-square-foot museum, scheduled to open its doors in 2011.

Hopefully, this problem will not carry-over to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which is moving toward its groundbreaking, and is tentatively set to open on the National Mall in 2015.

In an effort to broaden the pool of contributors, CCHR organizers have had to rethink their original vision of a monument dedicated solely to the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., housed in the city of his birth–and widely considered the seat of the movement.

As it were, there are still many who are in denial about the ugliness of America’s past. This segment of the population doesn’t want to even hearabout lynchings, cross-burnings, or the Ku Klux Klan, let alone see exhibits about them.

Says Lonnie King, a member of the CCHR planning committee (but not the MLK family): “There are people who wanted to turn it into a museum that will glorify a lot of things other than civil rights.” Consequently, although the 10,000-piece collection of King papers will be the centerpiece, only one-third of the facility will focus on King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Another third of the building will be devoted to early American history, particularly the enslavement period and the systemic discrimination that followed in the Jim Crow era. The remaining tierce will highlight the “modern era” of human rights struggles of other American groups since the 1970’s: primarily, women, Hispanics, and gays, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

This is a recurring theme in the African American saga.

Even the advisory council of the NMAAHC had to fight for its placement on the National Mall, which was built by enslaved Africans. The New York Times reports that BET founder Bob Johnson threatened to resign from the council if the long-awaited museum had not been built on the Mall. “To have relegated this museum to another site,” he said, “when people are looking to it to answer everything from the need for an apology for slavery to reparations, would have been the ultimate dismissal.”

Especially since at no time since the abolition of the “peculiar institution” of American enslavement has there been any program or initiative intended for the sole purpose of attempting to make whole the formerly enslaved–and their descendants.

Not one.

Not the Freedmen’s Bureau, formed during Reconstruction, and charged with rebuilding the lives of the newly “freed”–and the war-torn south, and poor Whites, andthe former enslavers who, by the way, were compensated for their lost “property.” In stark contrast, the Black Freedmen (and women and children) were–by and large–given nothing but the clothes on their backs…and a hard way to go.

Not affirmative action, which is routinely pointed to as a form of reparations for African Americans for centuries of enslavement. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Granted, because of affirmative action, many African Americans have made tremendous strides in the areas of business, education, government, journalism, etc.

But, let’s be clear. It is White women, as quiet as it’s kept, who have reaped the lion’s share of affirmative action benefits. And, I hasten to add, there’s nothing wrong with that, as they outnumber all other “minorities.” I’m just saying…let’s keep it real.

And, without question, women have suffered–and continue to suffer–grave injustices in this country, but that is a separate issue from that of the African American. By the same token, Hispanics have also been–and continue to be–treated as second-class citizens in America. The same is true for the GLBT community.

But here’s the problem. There is this constant effort to lump the Black American story under the “civil rights” or “human rights” umbrella. Moreover, the tendency to dismiss the singular experience in this country that is the African Americans’, like yesterday’s news, is downright disrespectful.

It’s like there is an expiration date or statute of limitations on Black history, after which it will be deemed irrelevant–or dead, even.

Frankly, I find insulting the suggestion that just because the American people have elected an African-American president, the past 400 years of American hegemony are no longer relevant.

This is simply not acceptable. Nor is it credible. It would be just as ludicrous to suggest that we should one day cease telling the story of the Trail of Tears, or other chapters of the near annihilation of the Native American peoples because one Native American crossed a certain threshold previously reserved for White Americans.

I mean, there’s a reason why we study past events, and why history is one of the oldest and most venerated of the disciplines of the academy. As Malcolm X observed in 1964, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.”

Yet, according to the Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who is faced with the admittedly awesome task of bringing the CCHR to fruition, reasons thus. “If this center only looks backward it won’t be successful.”

While, I agree that we must be forward-thinking and embrace and promote racial and intercultural harmony, I believe that, in the long-run, we will do more harm than good to race relations by attempting to water down –or bury–the past.

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic, and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.