Sunday, September 23, 2012

End of an Era

The 2012 National HBCU Week Conference, hosted by the White House Initiative on HBCUs (WHI-HBCUs), will be held this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, September 25th and 26th. It's been a long time since I attended one of these annual events, but I couldn't miss this one. I'm not going because I want to hear the carefully prepared remarks of the dozens of speakers at the podiums, but because I want to listen to the concerns spontaneously expressed by the hundreds of attendees, unfiltered by the media.

I will attend this conference because I am convinced that HBCUs are coming to the end of an era. It seems highly unlikely to me that the next ten or twenty years of HBCU history will be anything like the last ten or twenty. So I will be noting how many other attendees seem to share my sense of foreboding. More specifically, I will be listening to hear how the other attendees think that HBCUs can rise to the existential challenges that are now looming so large on our horizons. I will also be listening to hear the concerns of the other attendees about the perilous state of black higher education throughout the country, at the non-HBCUs where almost 90 percent of black students are enrolled.

There are challenges and challenges. Some challenges are merely problems to be solved ... and when you're successful, you walk away with a big bright smile. But existential challenges can be transformative. The extent to which they require you to redefine who you are in order to resolve them successfully can be scary ... and liberating. The "you" that walks away the big bright smile is a different person than the "you" that accepted the challenge in the first place.

I sincerely believe that the existential challenges currently facing HBCUs in particular and black higher education in general are profoundly transformative ... very scary but, potentially, very liberating ... :-)

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