White House annual HBCU summit sees lower attendance

The White House hosted its annual summit for leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities Monday as part of National HBCU Week.

The summit is part of the White House Initiative to Promote Excellence and Innovation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities — which was established by former President Ronald Reagan. The initiative and annual summit were created to help students served by HBCUs, according to an executive order President Donald Trump issued in February.

Trump, along with many HBCU leaders, did not attend the summit.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said his organization did not attend the main portion of the conference because the way it was planned would not make it worthwhile.

He said the White House had not appointed an executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs or a member of the President's Board of Advisors on HBCUs to plan a substantive conference.

"Given that those two appointments had not been made, we assumed there would not be a substantive conference and therefore didn’t think we would spend our time coming to a non-substantive summit," Taylor said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos scheduled a meeting of the HBCU Capital Financing Advisory Board at the Department of Education for Monday afternoon.

"TMCF participated in that meeting because it was substantively important," Taylor said. "And we knew that because many HBCUs rely on that program to provide capital improvements on their campuses."

Ron Butler, CEO of the HBCU Community Development Action Coalition, said he believes HBCUs are not receiving enough support from the federal government, but he hopes that relationship can improve.

“HBCUs are valuable national assets," he said. "(The federal government) should expand or increase the amount of resources available to students.”

Deanna Gibbs, a first-year student at Fayetteville State University, one of North Carolina’s HBCUs, said her experience there has been positive and has helped her discover more about herself.

“In my opinion, I feel that by going to an HBCU, you’ll get a chance to learn more about your ethnicity than you would learn from a primarily white school," she said. 

Gibbs said she never had the experience of being in classrooms where the racial population was equal before attending an HBCU. 

"I’ve been in situations where I was the only African-American kid in the class," she said. "Because of this, no one really talked to me — so having the chance to have majority of the classroom be African-Americans is kind of a benefit to me.”

Taylor said the mission of HBCUs remains the same as when they were first created, and their existence is still crucial.

“HBCUs were created to give educational opportunities to people who the law did not allow to attend the majority of institutions," he said. "That was as important then, as it is today. And in fact, in some ways, it’s more important now."

Taylor said America is now far more diverse than when HBCUs were first created.

"We need to ensure that historically underrepresented groups continue to have an opportunity to become represented groups in our economy,” he said.

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