HBCU DIGEST: Truth & Service is on life support

Winter is coming and we need a resolution.

A few days ago, an HBCU Digest Editorial Board member wrote “Howard protest is stuck on stupid.”  The Editorial Board is composed of current and former HBCU executives, alumni, students, and corporate stakeholders.  The HBCU Digest was founded by Jarrett Carter Sr.; and he has not written for the HBCU Digest since becoming a full-time employee of Howard University approximately a month ago.  

The author wrote what they believed to be the best truth with singular context informed by their professional experience in the sector―and that’s the problem.  Other members of the Editorial Board may agree with this particular piece―and that’s also the problem.  This critique of the current generation of student activism without regard for how current executive leadership creates the circumstances for this brand of student activism is bad for business; this is the perfect combination of intergenerational communication issues.  Miscommunication (and the inability to effectively communicate between all campus stakeholders) is at the center of the Howard University Student Protest.  

The earlier piece strongly illustrates just how much interpersonal work we really need to do as a sector.  Consider this your two-finger shoulder tap, a call-in, a safe space to contend with circumstances within and outside of executive control.  

The author is absolutely correct that what is happening at Howard University could happen at other HBCUs; we all have very similar institutional issues and we are mostly led by the same generation of people whose values and experiences were shaped by inaccessibility (available technology, equitable funding, enrollment in traditionally white institutions) and respectability (appearing amenable, perfect in the presence of community outsiders for fear of negative institutional outcomes).  The Generations (Xennials, Millennials, and Z) of people who are within the college-going age range from undergraduate through graduate studies, those who are subjected to being led by Baby Boomers (born during 1946-1964) and Silent Generation (born 1925-1945) people, are not those who will accept communication that isn’t transparent and doesn’t engender mutual respect and trust.   

There are too many instances in recent academic years where students have been moved to occupy and protest in response to their Administration’s behaviors.  To be clear: these are all the result of a failure to communicate to student stakeholders.  The author stated that “it is nearly comical to those of us who have sat in the seat of ultimate responsibility…Our collective experience with boards is that they rarely bend to public pressure because they always have receipts and the protection of knowing that they will always have more information about an institution than any other stakeholder group on campus.” Instead of suggesting that this is a teachable moment in sharing responsibility and information so that students and their parents can make an informed decision on how to best proceed (in light of housing issues), the author highlights how much more they know than students.  That doesn’t empower students to be better campus stakeholders; it enrages students because an administration is prioritizing their ego and taunting students at the same time.  This does not teach students how to understand the conditions of their HBCU nor does it allow them to conceptualize what all outcomes can be nor the consequences for all actions of decisions that their HBCU leadership is sometimes forced to make.  

We are at a critical impasse because of communication issues.  Blackburn Student Stakeholders have the ear of the media, social media, and the fractured Howard University Alumni.  The University has its own set of regulations and standards that prevent it from engaging in an equal manner with students and media.  We have seen many celebrities or influential figures offer their support and presence, but we have not seen better mediation or outcomes that lead to an amicable resolution.  Time is running out.  Quite literally, winter is coming and no Bison needs to be out in the cold (dismissed from the University, in the Blackburn Tent-City, or in any other way bereft).  We have so much capacity as a University community.  We train lawyers, various types of doctors between mental health and communications, but we are failing to use our resources and education to drive ourselves to an amicable resolution.  

Somebody needs to call it.