Brian Kennedy on the continued relevance of HBCUs

As launched with yesterday's post, we'll be spending this week presenting my impressions of a symposium held on June 3-4, 2010, entitled, "Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities." Sponsored by North Carolina Central University, one of five HBCUs in the University of North Carolina system, this gathering of national education leaders culminated a year long celebration of the centennial of the 1910 founding of the institution by businessman, teacher, and pharmacist, Dr. James E. Shepard.

A native of Raleigh, Shepard earned a Ph.G. in pharmacy (the original pharmacy degree) in 1894 from the Leonard Medical School at Shaw University. After establishing the first pharmacy in Durham that served African-American clientele, Shepard was central to the founding of two institutions that established the Bull City as a beacon of Black business activity in the South: the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (1898) and Mechanics & Farmers Bank (1907).

HBCUs have tended to focus on their rich history of struggle and accomplishment but the symposium focused on moving forward as an institution in today's highly-competitive higher education landscape and global economy. Scholars far more qualified than I have held forth on the continued relevance of the HBCU.

But as a white professor from the North at a HBCU, what I find most refreshing is learning from students about how the HBCU experience is relevant to them - today. I want to share one example with you in this post.

Brian Kennedy is a native of the Charlottesville, Virginia area and is a rising junior in political science at NCCU. He was recently elected vice-president of the NCCU Student Government Association. Brian qualifications could have easily gotten him into UVa, or any university for that matter, but he chose only to apply to Howard University and NCCU. (This reminds me of a Temple University commercial on Philadelphia television stations in the early 1980s featuring Bill Cosby speaking about specific students and their qualification with his tagline, "She could've gone anywhere. She chose Temple.")

On day one of the HBCU Symposium, Brian gave the lunch address in a session entitled, Student Matters: Manifestations of the HBCU Experience. Brian was swamped with attention following the session but he took time later in the day to share with Terra Sigillata readers the highlights of his talk. Toward the end we also shared a few laughs as to whether students want blogging professors in their social media affairs.

Many thanks to Mr. Kennedy for talking with us about his talk and his own influences and motivations for choosing to attend a HBCU.


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I attended Oakwood University. OU HBCU has a higher rate of acceptance of pre-med students to medical schools or graduate schools than most other schools in the country. It is the same for most HBCU's as far as their graduates being prepared for graduate schools. I was accepted with a full ride into my master's program and was pleasantly surprised to be BETTER prepared than my classmates who came from PWI's, in regards to psychology foundational knowledge.

The mentoring that occurs as well as the rigor in academic preparedness due to smaller classes are a factor this conversation gets at but does not illuminate. Thanks for sharing this.

By Dr. B. Gamble (not verified) on 14 Jun 2010 #permalink

no luck on the Historically Lily White College or University moniker then?

By BikeMonkey (not verified) on 14 Jun 2010 #permalink

Dr. Gamble - thank you so much for your insights. We need more people like you to tell your personal stories. The statistics I quoted above are well-worn but there is nothing more powerful, to me at least, than hearing of one personal HBCU experience and retrospective.

The small class sizes you note are indeed another great benefit of many HBCUs because of the opportunities for personalized attention. Discussed at the symposium was the concern that economic pressures to increase enrollment runs the risk of compromising this advantage of the HBCU.

BikeMonk - Indeed, HLWCUs was the term that arose in the blog post thread back in 2008. But there is some scholarly truth in your classification as put forth by University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman. She noted that she specifically uses the term "historically White institutions" or HWIs instead of "predominantly White institutions" because these colleges have in their history a policy of systematically excluding Blacks, many as late as the 1960s and 1970s.

Surprising to many was that Gasman, a scholar who has devoted her respected career to the study of the HBCU, Black women in the STEM fields, and the history of the United Negro College Fund, is White. I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Gasman and will post parts of that interview later in the week.