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HBCUs in renewed spotlight thanks to VP-elect Kamala Harris

Posted at 1:07 PM, Nov 24, 2020

On the campus of Howard University, Vice-president-elect, and alumna, Kamala Harris is never too far from sight.

“It's important to note that she was a political science student,” said Howard University political science professor Niambi Carter.

Carter says Harris’ election as vice-president is casting a renewed spotlight on her alma mater and the role of more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America.

“Howard University has been around since 1867,” Carter said, going on to add, “It's not validation for us because we know the intellectual labor and what we contribute in these spaces, but I think the world is just sort of catching up to what many people already knew about HBCUs and why they're so special and so significant.”

It’s a similar story about 20 miles northeast of Howard University at Bowie State University in Maryland, also an HBCU, and founded before the end of the Civil War.

“We’re the oldest HBCU in the state of Maryland,” said Aminta Breaux, president of Bowie State University, who is also on the President’s Board of Advisors for HBCUs.

Breaux said Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris’ HBCU education is a point of pride.

“I'm just overjoyed to see my students so excited and full of joy and recognizing what this means in the history, not just in our HBCUs of this country, of all the individuals seeing her and thinking, ‘If she can do that, maybe I can, too,’” Breaux said.

HBCU’s are located in Washington, D.C. and 19 states, mostly in the South and East. They make up just three percent of higher learning institutions across the country but account for about 20 percent of African American college graduates.

“Our endowments across the board, in comparison to predominantly white institutions, pale in comparison,” Breaux said. “And so we need greater philanthropic support, private support, as well as federal and state support.”

It comes as, over the years, the students attending HBCUs have become increasingly diverse, including at Howard University.

“If you're thinking that this space is closed and it's only open to African-Americans, or people who are identified as Black, it is not,” Howard’s Professor Carter said. “It is a space that is open for all.”

It is a historic space attracting new attention in the present.