Tag Archives: HBCU

It’s HBCU Week in Washington DC: Let’s See What the Future Holds

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009Every year, I attend the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Conference, which is held in Washington D.C. in September.  It’s a unique event in that it brings together the leaders of both public and private HBCUs with members of the federal government, funders, and those representing the private and nonprofit sector.

This morning I had the privilege of listening to the new Executive Director of the White House Initiative John S. Wilson talk about his goals for HBCUs.  Wilson a dynamic and entertaining speaker who has a wonderful ability to appropriately incorporate history into his vision for the future of HBCUs.  Wilson is also a straight talker who realizes HBCU success and the success of their graduates is tied to improved graduation rates and increased outcomes across the board, including stronger endowments, higher alumni giving, lower attrition rates, lower deferred maintenance, higher faculty salaries, lower faculty teaching loads, and higher enrollments.  Of course, the only way to increase outcomes at HBCUs in the way that Wilson describes is to provide these institutions with the necessary support and the appropriate tools for success.  Wilson understands that increased support for infrastructure and tools for capacity building are essential.

Wilson’s agenda for HBCUs is results-oriented.  He mentioned strategies such as “collecting data to make the case for HBCUs.”  He specifically told the large audience of HBCU supporters that we all need to  Recover, Uncover, and Discover HBCUs.  First, he encouraged HBCUs leaders to recover the history of HBCUs and to share that history of success with others, noting “you can have a great history without a great heritage.”  From this historian’s point of view, it was  refreshing to hear an HBCU leader point to new examples of the contributions of HBCUs — their role in increasing literacy rates in the United States, for instance — rather than the same examples that are pointed to over and over.

Second, Wilson asked the audience to “uncover” the problems and challenges that HBCUs face, saying “we cannot fix what we do not examine.”  Although there are risks in pointing to the problems that HBCUs confront, it is absolutely essential to their future that we identify these problems, interogate the reasons for their existence, and work diligently to tackle them in an effort to make HBCUs stronger.  Wilson urged HBCU insiders to shine a light on their challenges; this is imperative because if HBCU supporters don’t shine this light, others will.  Wilson also wants us to hold HBCUs responsible for the education of their students, but he also wants to hold the Federal government responsible, admitting that in the past there has been “bias and bureacracy in federal funding to HBCUs.”

Third, Wilson asked the group of HBCU leaders to “discover” HBCUs all over again, emphasizing that HBCUs are often well-kept secrets.  These institutions boast some of the best programs and resources for educating African-Americans and other students.  There is much to be learned from their strategies for success, but all too often HBCUs fail to highlight success and to share their legacies with those outside the HBCU community.

In closing, Wilson said one of the most important things I have heard in years pertaining to HBCUs.  Based on his own personal experience at Morehouse College, he talked about the student who loves his HBCU, but doesn’t always like it.   He noted that the way that HBCU leaders handle this student is absolutely key to the future success of HBCUs.  If you engage the student in making changes that strengthen the institution — if you listen to him or her — more than likely, you end up with a lifelong supporter of your institution and a donor.  But, if you ignore the student and dismiss his or her perspective, the result is an alumnus who never looks back with fond memories and never gives back.

In my opinion, Wilson exemplifies President Barack Obama’s stance on HBCUs and  articulates the Obama vision for these institutions as well as higher education overall.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers — A Student’s Experience

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman and Jameel Scott

In this week’s blog entry, I want to share the words of one of my wonderful graduate students.  His name is Jameel Scott and he is in the masters program in higher education here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.  Jameel is a graduate of Morehouse College.  He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member.  He is currently enrolled in my History of American Higher Education course, which has an emphasis on underrepresented populations and institutions.  For one of his assignments, Jameel is focusing on the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  Unlike many students who are satisfied learning through a book, Jameel yearned to experience his research topic first hand.  Below he describes his visit to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  His experience is quite moving.


A Special Blessing


Two weeks ago I decided to purchase plane tickets to visit Nashville Tennessee’s historic Fisk University.  This University was having its Annual Jubilee Day, which pays homage to the original Jubilee Singers who went on tour to raise money and save the school from financial starvation.  This event, which elicits persons from around the world, including alumni and friends, was held on Monday October 6, 2008. . 

For the past two months I have engulfed myself in the study of this historic school. Today, I stood in front of Jubilee Hall with its colossal form looking down on me with mountains of history.  I heard the sounds of students speaking to each other and the breeze of the calm winds scratch my head.  The trees swayed as the small squirrels raced across the street.  Teachers were clasping hands with students while young ladies walked in a flowing motion across campus.  I was standing in the midst of history, where John Hope Franklin and W.E.B. Du Bois were students.  I felt the spirit of compassion and promise woven together with strength.  I walked into Jubilee Hall and viewed the paintings of the Jubilee Singers. 






 The 2008 Annual Jubilee Day Convocation was held at the Fisk Memorial Chapel located across from the historic Jubilee Hall.  As I entered the Fisk Chapel, I was met at the door by finely dressed students.  I was seated next to a man named Harry who was an alumnus of the school’s class of 1955.  We briefly talked about his experience at Fisk and the changes that he witnessed over time.  He was very proud of his school, and stated that his heart will always pump blue and gold (the school colors). 

All in attendance stood as the president and the other platform attendees processed to the podium.  The processional included: Dr. Anthony E. Williams, Professor of Music and University Organist; Reverend Gwendolyn Brown-Felder, Dean of the Chapel; Miss Karla Turner, Miss Fisk 2008-2009; Ms. Denise Billye Sanders, Chair- General Alumni Association; The Honorable Hazel R. O’Leary, the President; Mr. Vincent Stokes, President Student Government Association; Mr. Patrick Johnson, Alumnus; Reverend. Marcus D. Cosby, Keynote Speaker and Alumnus; and Mr. Paul T. Kwami, Music Director. 

As the program progressed, each individual stood at the podium to pay homage to the Jubilee Singers and up lift their school.  One by one, the speakers galvanized the audience, creating a splendid presentation of triumph, respect for heritage, and solidarity with tradition.  Interestingly, the young Student Government Association president provoked the most excitement and reflection on the school’s history.  He sat still all through the service, quietly waiting his turn to the microphone.  He first stood and gazed at the audience and then let loose an awesome presentation.  He said in a powerful voice, “…Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stood on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall, who stood on the shoulders of the NAACP, who stood on the shoulders of W.E.B. Du Bois, who stood on the shoulders of Fisk University, who stood and still stands on the shoulders of the Jubilee Singers!”  He continued to talk about the sacrifice that these singers undertook.  He spoke proudly of his school showcasing his knowledge of its history and how that history has influenced all of America. 

 Afterwards we heard the beautiful sounds of the Jubilee Singers.  I sat still listening intently as these young men and women followed in the traditions of the past.  All of the singers took great pride in the school with reverence to their history.  They appreciated the sacrifices that the singers made in the early days of the school. 

 Overall, the student body at Fisk University – a group of bright black and brown children – has a love for learning that is equal to students at any Ivy League institution and these students’ appreciation for their heritage runs deeper than an ocean.  These students say “I love Fisk University and will fight for her as she has fought for me.”

 After the Convocation everyone in attendance traveled to the grave site of the singers for deference.  A touching experience, which causes me to say I am blessed to have witnessed this wonderful event.  

As a professor, it is a pleasure to see a student dive into his research.  I hope that more young people will pursue research interests pertaining to Historically Black Colleges and Universities as these institutions are national treasures that play an important role in educating our country’s students.