Instead of allowing primarily members of the dominant culture to make the central issue surrounding historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) about whether they’re still relevant, HBCU alumni need to transition the national discourse on HBCUs to more alumni financial support to their institutions. One of the core reasons why most predominantly white institutions (PWIs) continue to experience success and remain financially stable is they receive significant financial support from their alumni. If alumni and supporters of HBCUs would make giving financial support to their institutions a true priority, then the relevancy questions about HBCUs will have dramatically less impact.
Many HBCUs are among the finest institutions in the nation and produce many of the best professionals in the world. Although greater federal, state and private dollars are needed to buttress HBCUs, alums cannot sit back and wait on funding from these sources to arrive and increase. Too many graduates of HBCUs haven’t and aren’t donating to these institutions that have given so much to them. These institutions, however, have to better engage their alumni. HBCUs must encourage alumni to be active in important activities sponsored by their institutions. Alumni shouldn’t just hear from institutions only when financial solicitations come in the mail. HBCU administrators must become even more ebullient in their efforts to fundraise as they are about staying in contact with their alumni and learning what concerns, suggestions, comments, and questions it has. For alumni to begin to give more money to their HBCUs, it needs to feel truly important to these institutions. Better engagement with alumni does not mean more financial solicitations.
HBCU graduates have to understand how vital the conversations they have about the institutions that produced them are to the continued success of these institutions. HBCU alums cannot expect their institutions to prosper when they’re constantly having negative discourses about them. What you say about HBCUs, even via social media, can have an immense impact on them. You should really think about the harm you can cause to HBCUs when you express your complaints about them via social media. Make great efforts to resolve your issues with leaders at these institutions before you do an unproductive thing like airing your anger about them on Facebook and/or Twitter. While you may feel you’re just venting or attempting to get your point across, many people are out there who desire to dismantle HBCUs and they will use your comments as fuel and evidence for their nefarious efforts.
The complaints of alums, however, shouldn’t go unanswered. If HBCU administrators want to see more financial giving to their institutions, then they must employ better ways to hear and address complaints of alums, especially when those complaints are credible. Even when complaints aren’t legitimate, it matters to alums that their voices are perceived as being heard. These institutions can do a better job of resolving tensions that exist within by establishing a meaningful relationship with their alumni. A meaningful relationship cannot simply be developed by interacting with alums around the time Homecoming is approaching and during the week of Homecoming.
Establishing meaningful relationships with alums, engaging them in essential institutional activities, and empowering them with a voice that matters will yield greater financial support for HBCUs from alumni.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison