Since the 1930s, the women of Bennett College, one of the nation’s two historically black colleges for women, have dressed in white and sung their “Preference Song” over an annual breakfast. They wave white linen napkins in the air, cheering “dear old Bennett College,” and welcome incoming freshmen.
The tradition, near and dear to the Belles of Bennett College, may soon be lost, along with the school itself.
In December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges voted to eliminate Bennett’s accreditationbecause of the school’s bleak financial report. Without it, the small, North Carolina-based private school is ineligible for federal funding, a likely death knell.
Bennett, founded in 1873, is fighting the decision in court. If it loses, it could become the latest in a long line of historically black colleges and universities to succumb to time and financial woes.
For nearly 200 years, since the opening of Pennsylvania’s Cheyney University in 1837, H.B.C.U.s have educated thousands of students, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Representative Elijah Cummings and Senator Kamala Harris. But from a high of 120 such schools to about 101 in 2019, many have faced an uncertain future. In the last 20 years, six have closed, and several others remain open in name only after losing accreditation.
According to students, the loss of just one historically black university — at one point the only option for black students seeking a college degree in America — is bound to reverberate for generations. Race/Related spoke to three black H.B.C.U. graduates whose schools are now closed about what the loss of these institutions means to them.
Concordia College, Selma, Ala. (1922 — 2018)
Marla Moore, 31, graduated from Concordia on April 28, 2018, with more than 150 other students. She transferred there in 2014 from Alabama’s Wallace Community College.
Ms. Moore said she had a hard time adjusting. The school lacked basic resources such as a student center and the smart boards that were available at Wallace, the buildings were old, as were the classrooms and desks, she said.
“The school was a culture shock for me. Even though I am African-American, I was used to seeing different people,” Ms. Moore said. She attended Concordia for one semester and withdrew.
But after an unsuccessful move to Georgia, Ms. Moore decided to return a year later to complete her degree. It was the sense of community at the school that brought her back. “It was like a family, people actually cared and coached me through things,” she said. “When I was tired, I could go to my teachers, my advisers, unlike at community college. The people wanted you to be there.”
When Ms. Moore learned the school would close, she said she was devastated. “I was really concerned about the staff and teachers looking for other jobs — this was their livelihood. Some had to move out West, some are still out of work. That is a form of trauma,” she said.
Ms. Moore now works at AmeriCorps, a nonprofit social justice organization, as a facilitator focused on Dr. King’s strategies of nonviolence. She said she worries about the fate of the nation’s remaining H.B.C.U.s.
“African-American community culture has already been whitewashed, so to not have anything at all that’s not yours, I don’t want to think about it,” she said. “It’s like a part of your heritage is taken away, like during slavery.”
Click here to read more.
Source: The New York Times