Trump and HBCUs

A wise man once told me that if don’t show up for an appointment 10 minutes early, then you’re showing up five minutes late. That’s the way it feels in the Trump era news cycle–stories that seem important one day line the birdcage the same day. So I’ll go back to the the president’s meeting with leaders of country’s most respected historically black colleges and universities, among which three very prominent institutions are located here in our fair state— N.C. A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University and North Carolina Central University.

New York Times ran an interesting story on the ‘hand-wringing at black colleges’ following the ‘handshakes at the White House’:

It was a scalding message, painted on a university campus sidewalk this week: “Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A. I. Frederick.”

What made the message more jarring still was that Dr. Frederick is the black president of one of the country’s most respected historically black institutions, Howard University, founded here 150 years ago as a bulwark of social justice. Other graffiti on campus buildings said, “Wayne Frederick doesn’t care about black people,” and “Make Howard black again.”

And on Thursday, students disrupted a university convocation to protest what they saw as Howard University’s catering to the Trump administration. One student confronted Dr. Frederick, shouting: “Someone might have convinced you that money is more important than people. But we are asking you, in this moment, to choose us, to take a stand for us, and to do right by us.”

The student backlash came after Dr. Frederick and more than 60 other leaders of historically black colleges and universities gathered for a meeting on Monday with top officials of the Trump administration, including the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. As the meeting was getting underway, participants said, it was interrupted to invite them to an impromptu visit with President Trump in the Oval Office.

Indeed N.C. A&T was mentioned in the article, as the Times reported Howard protesters “heard echoes of support” on social media not only from Aggies but students at Morehouse, Spelman and Hampton. And an education historian at the University of Pennsylvania–most definitely not a historically black university—put in her two cents worth, saying she thought the meeting was “an opportunity for Donald Trump to say, ‘Look, I had this event with African-American leaders,’ and, ‘Get off my back.’”

But at least Trump held a meeting (emphasis mine):

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said his group — which represents 47 publicly supported black colleges and universities — had asked for a meeting with Mr. Trump, and was elated when it was granted. The group had asked for a meeting with President Barack Obama every year for eight years and had never heard back, he said.

“We don’t have a problem getting to the secretary,” Mr. Taylor said. “But Mr. Trump or any president has to first propose their budget to Congress, so you need to get to the president to impact his budget if you hope to get your financial support from Congress.”

He said the meetings had already borne fruit because Mr. Trump had signed an order moving a longstanding initiative supporting historically black colleges and universities from the education department into the White House, where some black leaders thought it would carry more weight.

Just goes to show that sometimes politics and higher education aren’t always so–shall we say–black and white.

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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