If you visit the website for Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the amount of information you find there would, at first sight, appear very impressive.
The page leads off with three White House fact sheets concerning proposals from the Biden-Harris Administration for HBCUs. Then there’s a robust list of annual reports, strategy documents, planning, and studies on HBCUs.
At first sight, it is how a federal support initiative created by a presidential executive order should look. And in comparison, it is a much better presentation of the government’s interest in Black colleges than its attention to initiatives for Asian Americans and Hispanics.
But how much does the comparative analysis say about the Biden-Harris’ Administration’s care for HBCUs? Most of the site’s content is from prior versions of the initiative ordered under previous presidents.
All of the available annual reports with data from 2007-2013 were published between 2013 and 2015 by the Obama Administration. All of the strategy and policy documents on HBCU connectivity to federal agencies? They were generated by the Trump Administration.
So far, the only real estate on the website flying a Biden-Harris flag is three fact sheets detailing proposals for HBCUs and a list of students to the White House’s HBCU scholar recognition program.
When students, alumni, and some HBCU presidents ask what the Biden-Harris Administration is doing for Black colleges, and the White House gets in its feelings about these challenges and issues stern fact sheets, this is why. Forget actual work or advocacy – there is an outright deficit of narrative for this White House and one of the signature pegs of its domestic platform.
After the murder of George Floyd and the summer of Black resistance worldwide in the throes of a pandemic, the Biden-Harris campaign quickly rose to prominence in Black circles thanks to its commitments to boosting Black colleges. The campaign had political capital and a strong blueprint for doing it; the Trump Administration was soon to exit with the scourge of pandemic, two impeachments, and responsibility for rising racial animus throughout the country. But with this, a strong track record of investment in HBCUs.
If Republicans could back policy matters like capital loan deferments, enhanced agricultural funding and commercial development, opportunity zones, and increased federal funding, most believed that Biden as an HBCU ally and Harris as an HBCU graduate would undoubtedly have similar bipartisan cache.
But through year one, the administration has largely failed to deliver on the promises of enhancements for HBCUs outside of covid relief funding packages. While private philanthropy towards HBCUs continues to boost the sector brand, the White House still hasn’t appointed an executive director for the initiative; the longest the office has ever gone without permanent leadership.
Things have gotten so bad, that surrogates in congress are seemingly struggling and hand-picking gullible media members to serve as HBCU whisperers, armed with incomplete data and flat-out lack of results.
The Biden-Harris Administration is not delivering for HBCUs, and they aren’t trying to hide it. Leaders know that if they show up on enough campuses or radio interviews targeting Black listeners, the good vibes will drown out the handful of folks looking for actual data and deliverables.
They know that appointing a sitting HBCU president to be the face of federal engagement with Black colleges looks good to the public. And with this look, they understand that the HBCU community will not care that there aren’t enough hours in the day for him to fully engage the federal government and run his school to the best of his ability.
But maybe they don’t know that Black folks are slowly starting to come out of emotional connections to allies and enemies and consider everyone either a threat or an opportunity across a matrix of moments. We’re starting to believe what we see more than what we hear.
If the Biden-Harris Administration wants us to see something other than a harsh truth of its total disengagement from HBCUs, it has to start delivering. Missing on the little things like a public website suggests that they don’t even know where or how to start reversing course or even pretend that they want to.