Since January 20th, advocates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been watching to see what the new administration will do when it comes to these educational institutions. From a White House meeting-turned-photo op with HBCU presidents to Betsy DeVos’ commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University, the administration’s actions have done little to ease the apprehensions of many HBCU advocates.
It looks like those apprehensions are well founded. In a signed statement on the government spending bill, the White House referred to a vital HBCU program – the HBCU Capital Financing Program – as a provision “that allocate[s] benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender” and stated that it would treat such programs “in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the law…” In other words, the White House is questioning whether the program many HBCUs depend on is constitutional.
The Department of Education created the HBCU Capital Financing Program to provide money for HBCUs to pay for improvements to classrooms, dorms, labs and libraries. The funds from this program are essential because HBCUs have been chronically underfunded for decades. Getting rid of the Capital Financing Program would not only mean many HBCUs wouldn’t be able to make necessary campus repairs and updates, but it could also mean some HBCUs would have to shut down.
Our organization, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, has a strong connection to HBCUs. We were founded after a conference at Spelman College in 1983. Today, we have a program called My Sister’s Keeper that teaches women at HBCUs how to support each other in making healthy choices, protect each other from intimate partner violence, and serve as advocacy leaders on campus and in the community. The thought that these young women could lose the very spaces that are instrumental in preparing them for their futures breaks our hearts.
HBCUs have been educating Black women and men for almost 200 years. They not only represent institutions committed to the academic and professional advancement of Black people, but they also are spaces where young Black people can become empowered and feel supported and affirmed. The impact of HBCUs also goes beyond Black communities. HBCU graduates have left their mark on this nation and the world. You know the successes of HBCU alumni like Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee and Toni Morrison, but countless others are blazing trails in business, tech, health care, government and other sectors. This is why the government must continue investments like the HBCU Capital Financing Program. They are places of deep historical, cultural and economic significance that impact us all.
We urge the Trump Administration and Congress to consider the value of HBCUs to the Black community and the nation. Continued funding of the Capital Financing Program will ensure the continued vitality of one of our nation’s most valued treasures – HBCUs.