Why we should all celebrate the 2019 HBCU of the Year

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Dr. Roslyn Artis

Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis

In August, Benedict College was named the 2019 HBCU of the Year by the HBCU Digest. We were elated by the recognition of our work and publicized the honor in both mainstream and social media. And then it happened…a graduate of a sister HBCU took to social media and questioned how Benedict College had secured such a prestigious designation. Perhaps the author of the offensive post was unaware that in the past 24 months, Benedict College successfully implemented a new tuition pricing model that reduced the cost of attendance for students by more than $6,000 per year. Benedict was the first HBCU to reduce its tuition significantly in decades.

Perhaps this individual was unaware that Benedict increased its admission standards and broke enrollment records in each of the last two (2) years, enrolling three (3) high school valedictorians this year alone; improving its student profile and increasing retention rates as a result thereof. Perhaps the writer was unaware that, despite a devastating hacking incident, Benedict College overhauled its technology infrastructure including laying of all-new fiber and implementation of a massive software conversion. Perhaps this individual was unaware that Benedict had launched an aggressive capital improvement plan to upgrade its facilities. Perhaps he had no knowledge of our innovative Summer Bridge Program, improvements to our Academic Support Services, cutting edge STEM Programs, renowned visual and performing arts programs or our award-winning Career Pathways Initiative.

Perhaps the writer was unaware that pound for pound, Benedict Alumni are among the most generous and dedicated HBCU alumni in the country, donating over $1 million dollars per year for four (4) consecutive years. Perhaps he unaware that the American Council on Education awarded Benedict College the 2019 Institutional Transformation Award, recognizing a college or university that has taken on the challenges of higher education in a particularly innovative or creative way and achieved significant positive results in a relatively short period of time. Clearly, had the writer known these things, they would never have questioned whether Benedict College had in fact, earned (and darned well deserved) the coveted HBCU of the Year Award.

Despite the obvious lack of knowledge about Benedict College’s many achievements in recent years, the thing that truly bothered me about the post was that it was an HBCU Alum that created it. You see, I have a problem with the fact that rather cheer for, support and congratulate a sister-HBCU, this individual attempted to “throw shade’ on another HBCU. It is my opinion, deeply held belief and conscious practice to never speak ill of another HBCU – I cheer for everybody black. We are all a part of the same family. We may have different colors, mascots, populations, and programs, but we have a common mission – to educate the descendants of former slaves and perpetuate the history, legacy and value of African Americans through the provision of a competitive education in a culturally sensitive campus environment.

HBCUs are among the most under-resourced, underappreciated and under-respected institutions of higher learning. Nevertheless, we continue to punch well above our weight relative to other institutions in the production of African American scientists, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, social workers, and leaders. Students graduating from Historically Black Colleges enjoy a better quality of life, demonstrate a stronger sense of self-efficacy, and compete at the highest levels in graduate and professional schools.

Despite the unrefuted evidence of value, we continue to receive undeserved criticism and even less support. At the very least, we must support one another. HBCUs and people who believe in them must be advocates and allies. Those of us who have reaped the benefits of attending these institutions should be shouting from the highest hills about their value, rather than stooping to petty shade-throwing on social media. Shame on you!

Did I mention that I cheer for everybody black? It goes without saying that I am proud to lead the HBCU in SC that was founded by a woman, on an 80acre slave plantation nearly 150-years ago. Benedict College produced some of the most prolific civil rights leaders in the south, including the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement – Septima Clark and the late Modjeska Simpkins. However, I don’t just cheer for Benedict College.

South Carolina State University (James E. Clark), the only land-grant HBCU in South Carolina, has a long and distinguished history of producing African American Generals and is the alma mater of our own Congressman Jim Clyburn. Claflin University (Dr. Dwaun Warmack) produced two (2) of the first black female college graduates in the world (1884) and its own longest-serving President, Dr. Henry Tisdale. Allen University (Dr. Earnest McNealey) has produced countless elected officials and members of the South Carolina House of Representatives, including the late Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down in Mother Emmanuel Church while conducting Bible Study.

Morris College (Dr. Leroy Staggers), founded and supported by the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of SC, is among the leading producers of prolific African American Baptist Ministers. Voorhees College (Dr. W. Franklin Evans) is the only HBCU in South Carolina founded by a black woman and continues to provide high-quality programs across a variety of disciplines. Clinton College (Dr. Lester McCorn) became a 4-year degree-granting institution in 2013 and celebrated 125 years in 2019. Denmark Technical College (Dr. Christopher J. Hall) continues to provide a quality education in the trades and has produced countless successful business owners in SC and beyond. I am honored to serve alongside the Presidents of these fine Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Together we are ensuring a well trained and diverse workforce in the state, the region, and the world. I support them, and I believe they support me.

It is imperative that our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and everyone who professes to love and support HBCUs, refrain from falling prey to the tribalism that turns us, one against the other, and contributes to the negative stereotypes that do not accurately portray us but are frequently used to diminish us. We must resist the temptation to exhibit the pride we feel for our own HBCUs to in ways that diminish or “throw shade on” another. To love your alma mater does not diminish mine. We may represent different tribes, but we are all one. The same goes for Greek Fraternities and Sororities – we have different colors, calls, chants, and steps, but we are all sisters and brothers.

Recall that in Wakanda, there were multiple tribes – The Panther Tribe, War Dogs, Border Tribe, Mining Tribe, River Tribe, Merchant Tribe, The Jabari and the Priests. Yet, when there was a threat to them collectively, they dropped their tribal allegiances and came together to preserve their way of life. If HBCUs are to survive and to thrive, we must stick together. That is the only way that Wakanda survived and its is the way we will survive as an education ecosystem in a world that seldom understands or appreciates the HBCU Experience – its magic!

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