HBCUs have always been grossly underfunded. But that’s not the only problem.


When Howard University students returned to school for the fall semester, they faced a plethora of disturbing conditions on campus. Not only was there various reports mold invading dormitories, but students also pointed to a glaring lack of security amid the pandemic as they struggled to access COVID-19 testing. Now Howard’s students are entering week three of a sit-in to force the administration to respond to their demands, and social media clips of the protest have gained national attention.

But sadly, the problem isn’t limited to 2021, or Howard alone. If you’ve spent a ton of time on Black Twitter – like me – you’ll have seen students from several HBCUs talking about appalling living conditions. It seemed like every time the school year started, people discovered mold, pests, or some other nasty shit in the housing on campus., which prompted alumni – and even students who had at least escaped dorm life – to share their own horror stories. And aside from the anecdotal evidence, there’s also the fact that Howard was sued by 19 college students in 2012 for cockroaches, rats, and mold in their dorms. Likewise, in 2016, students at Norfolk State University in Virginia alerted authorities to a cockroach infestation in their dormitories; In 2018, Hampton University students held a town hall with administration regarding moldy dorms, inedible food, and other issues on the Virginia campus.

In the HBCUs, the students organized themselves to fight against the bad living conditions or the general conditions of education. In fact, Howard’s sit-in outside Blackburn University Center was started by Live Movement, a coalition of HBCU students advocating for education reform. But there is a lot to unpack when it comes to Why The HBCUs have struggled so much with these issues.

Of course, one of the problems is that many HBCUs are just plain old – and that includes their buildings. Quinton T. Ross Jr., president of Alabama State University, said The New York Times earlier this month that the dormitory he lived in as a student, which still exists, is 58 years old. Even then, it is one of the newer buildings on campus, as others are over a century old. While having old buildings per se is not necessarily a problem, maintenance and renovations can be expensive. And HBCUs are often severely underfunded.

Historically, funding for HBCUs has not been a priority for state or federal governments. While states sometimes say they will give billions of dollars to these institutions, the money is often embezzled by politicians. In June, CBC News reported that an investigation by Tennessee officials found that one of the state’s four HBCUs, Tennessee State University, had been underfunded by about $ 544 million since 1950. Harold Love, a state representative and Tennessee state alumnus who led the investigation, told CNBC: “That figure of $ 544 million doesn’t just represent how much money the state of Tennessee did not receive from the state – it also represents how much money the state of Tennessee had to withdraw from its own reserves to fill the [federal] correspond to the requirements.

When HBCUs are so severely underfunded over time, it’s no surprise to see them struggle with issues you might not find in predominantly white universities. Like Ross said The temperature, “If you don’t start at the same place, then you’ll always be late.” And when there is such a disparity over time, you usually can’t catch up. “

In recent years, there have been both advances and setbacks in funding for HBCUs. During his presidency, Donald Trump signed the FUTURE Act, which renewed more than $ 250 million in funding for colleges serving communities of color, including approximately $ 85 million for HBCUs in particular. More recently, it has been reported that President Biden’s administration has cut funding for HBCUs by billions, but this is not the whole truth.

Right now, Congress is reviewing a $ 3.5 trillion spending plan from Biden. As PolitiFact reported, the original iteration of the bill included $ 45 billion in new funding for HCBUs and other colleges serving communities of color. But on October 5, the Associated Press reported that the latest version only allocated $ 2 billion. It’s obviously a huge change – but it’s a lot more complicated than saying Biden single-handedly slashed the budget. As Harry Williams, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an organization that champions HBCUs, told PolitiFact, “This is not a cut. It will be an increase of $ 2 billion instead of $ 45 billion. It’s not a cut, because you can’t cut what we’ve never had.

In short, HBCU underfunding is not due to one person, nor can one person be credited when funds flow. Like everything else, HBCU’s funding is caught up in politics.

With Congress not doing much, other organizations are stepping in. Last week, the NBA announced that its first-ever HBCU Classic will take place during All-Star Weekend in 2022. The game will be a one-on-one between Howard University and Morgan. State University and will be accompanied by a donation of over $ 1 million to HBCUs. While this money is certainly welcome, it is only a tiny fraction of NBA profits: According to Investopedia, the NBA made around $ 8.76 billion in the 2018-19 season alone. With the NBA, celebrities, especially HBCU alumni, are well known for their gifts; Oprah Winfrey, who attended Tennessee State University, donated $ 2 million to her former college and community last year.

While there is a lot of emphasis on money, that’s not the whole conversation. Howard’s students wouldn’t hold a three-week sit-in if their administration listened to and dealt with complaints properly from the start. And during their sit-in, the students were treated like they were the problem. Earlier this month, DCist reported that administration and police officials tore up protesters’ banner, set off the fire alarm to try to get firefighters to forcibly remove students, and shut down Blackburn so that ‘no new student can come in to help those who were already inside.

In addition, attempts to hold a town hall with the administration failed. Rather than Howard officials coming to speak with students, a protester, Tia-Andrea Scott, told DCist they had met with the police. An Instagram video from the Live Movement shows students in Blackburn trying to ask questions of an unidentified school official. One question in particular shows how the problems faced by HBCUs – although exacerbated by underfunding – cannot be simply solved with money.

“What do we do on campus if the blue security lights aren’t working and you’re in trouble?” »Asks a student. The official replied: “Call the police. To which the student says: “We are black. I don’t recommend anyone here to call the police.

So, yes, the HBCUs need funding. Lack of money is certainly a major factor causing problems in universities across the country. At the same time, the way in which administrations approach their students poses deeper problems, especially when it comes to ensuring their safety.

“This is not the way we should be treated by our university. Howard University is supposed to be famous, ”Scott told DCist. “But in regards to the protection of the people who are here, and the black issues, it is clear that they are not meeting with us … unless the media is present or unless everyone is watching.” “


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