This week, four presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across Florida met as they showcased their institutions and insisted their schools will continue to play a role in the Sunshine State.
At the first Florida HBCU Impact Summit in Tallahassee this week, the presidents of Florida A&M University (FAMU), Bethune-Cookman University (BCU), Edward Waters College (EWC) and Florida Memorial University (FMU) talked about the challenges and opportunities that HBCUs are facing in the state. They noted they make up four percent of colleges in the state while offering 18 percent of Bachelor of Science degrees earned by African Americans on Florida and $833 million to the state’s economy.
FAMU President Larry Robinson said America was falling behind on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) due to a lack of diversity--and HBCUs could help with that.
“There’s a tremendous amount of talent inside the classrooms of these four institutions and others like them across the country,” Robinson said.
“The next moon shot is the realization that we need to take advantage of the talent that is resident in these universities we call HBCUs,” Robinson added. “It’s the next big thing and we really need to embrace that.”
FMU President Jaffus Hardrick said that his school was going to aim for an increasingly larger profile in the years to come, pointing to FMU’s marching band and football team as ways to garner more attention.
“We are bringing that level of creativity back to make sure we are making a big difference,” Hardrick said. “We will no longer be a secret. Everyone is going to know what we are doing. We are significant. We are relevant, and we are here to stay.”
BCU President E. LaBrent Chrite was named to his post back in April and started his new assignment a month ago. He offered his first take on his responsibilities.
“I am inspired by the resiliency of our community. I am inspired by the creativity and ability of our students. I am inspired by the commitment and work ethic, under difficult circumstances, of our faculty,” said Chrite. “I am inspired and moved by the prowess and competitiveness of our athletes despite profound resources shortages.”
A. Zachary Faison, the president of EWC, said a small private school has different challenges than public universities like FAMU.
“We have to be more businesslike,” said Faison who then said his school needed more help from the private sector.
“Some of the corporations who profit from us need to invest in us,” Faison insisted. “It’s a new day. If you do business with EWC, we expect you to invest in us.”
Hadrick pointed to how online classes and competition have changed how HBCUs need to do things.
“We have to do things differently,” Hardrick said. “We still can’t be operating as if it’s 1950. It just won’t work.”
Robinson stressed that HBCUs need to retain some of their traditional elements to succeed.
“We are to be staying true to the things that make HBCUs,” said Robinson. “We have every reason to expect them to be successful. They don’t have to waste their time trying to prove they belong. We put our arms around them and go the extra mile.”