What do HBCUs think about the visit with President Trump? The Rhoden Fellows, our correspondents on six campuses, tell us what university presidents and students are saying
The Rhoden Fellows Initiative is a two-year training program for the next generation of sports journalists from historically black colleges and universities, headed by former New York Times award-winning columnist and Undefeated editor-at-large William C. Rhoden. The fellowship – established as part of The Undefeated’s mission to develop new voices and serve as an incubator for future multicultural journalists – is open to outstanding undergraduate students at HBCUs.
Through the lens of sports, the fellows will produce stories about race, class, and culture and serve as campus correspondents for The Undefeated. There are six students in the inaugural class: Miniya Shabazz, Grambling State University; Kyla Wright, Hampton University; Paul Holston, Howard University; C. Isaiah Smalls, Morehouse College; Simone Benson, Morgan State University; Donovan Dooley, North Carolina A&T.
Below are reports on what’s happening on their campuses in reaction to the White House visit by HBCU presidents and President Donald Trump’s executive order on HBCUs. C. Isaiah Smalls’ report about Morehouse College is a separate story.
Hampton University students had a lot to say.
“I feel that the executive order on HBCUs was a ploy to gain interest from the black community,” said Victoria Blow, a junior and strategic communications major from Franklin, Virginia. It was difficult for students to find authenticity and a sense of genuineness in the invitation to HBCU presidents, she said, especially after hearing that President Donald Trump referred to the HBCU presidents as “you people.”
“[President] Trump meeting with HBCU presidents reminds me of ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech by Malcolm X … Trump wants to sugarcoat his bigotry to the HBCU presidents,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a sophomore and electrical engineering major from Newburgh, New York. Riley referred to an excerpt in the speech, saying, “… the first thing the [white racist] does when he comes to power, he takes all the Negro leaders and invites them for coffee, to show them that he’s all right …”
Hamptonians expressed concerns about what went on at the White House.
Students admired Morehouse College president John S. Wilson for releasing a statement about the events with Trump and his administration, and were disappointed they had not seen a statement from their university president. “I would have liked [President William R. Harvey] to reassure us that he and the other university leaders would hold Trump accountable for delivering what he claimed he would do in the executive order,” said Aris Fulton, a sophomore communicative sciences and disorders major from Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I run Hampton like a business, for educational objectives. I do what I think is best, I do what I think is right. I always have and I always will,” said Harvey. Though he doesn’t plan on sending out anything to students, Harvey said that he does intend to send something to Hampton alumni. In regards to remarks made by other university presidents about the visit, Harvey said that he thinks that they were either “uninformed, naïve or disingenuous.”
Harvey has been to the White House more than 200 times during his 39-year presidency and said he’s familiar with these presidential meetings. “If they were expecting to go into the Oval Office and query the president, then that was a false expectation. That doesn’t happen.” Harvey thought that the conference went well, considering that they met with the president, vice president and top advisers to the president. Harvey went on to say this meeting with a majority of HBCU presidents was monumental and to his knowledge, it was the first time that all of the HBCU leaders met in one room – usually it is one or two presidents along with other HBCU representatives.
While many students were upset about the idea of the visit, others remained optimistic. They said they are hopeful that Trump’s administration can follow through with his plans for HBCUs and that the universities’ executive leadership can stand behind him for the greater good of their higher education.
“Regardless of your political views, or views on Trump in particular, it is important to create dialogue about what our HBCUs need in order to continue to succeed. Therefore, I am not against our president, Dr. Harvey, or any other HBCU presidents visiting the White House,” said Warren Hill, a senior finance major from Cincinnati. “President Trump has promised to do more for HBCUs than any other president. However, it is hard to stay optimistic in light of Trump’s many contradictions … as well as Betsy DeVos’ recent misinformed comments regarding the legacy of HBCUs.”
“Give more scholarships to youth who decide to attend HBCUs. Work hands-on with student leaders on campuses, create more internship opportunities for our students within the government … how about that?” said Brittany Daniels, a sophomore marketing major from Queens, New York.
Grambling State University
“It was significant regardless of who the president is. The fact that we as a collective group of such large numbers were there at the same time was historic and significant,” said Grambling State University president Richard Gallot.
During his visit, discussions focused on the White House Initiative on HBCUs being moved back to the White House from the Department of Education, the expansion of access to Parent PLUS loans, investment in school infrastructure, and a reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants. This would benefit Grambling because approximately 90 percent of Grambling students are eligible for Pell Grants.
He emphasizes that patience is key.
“Coming from a legislative background, these kinds of things take time. If anybody had an expectation that we would go to Washington and all go home with a check was not a realistic expectation on how this process works,” said Wilson.
Taylor Stewart showed a special interest in these meetings because there is already a lack of funding for higher education in Louisiana. “The biggest thing that concerns most HBCU students is the funding of HBCUs as far as Pell Grants and making sure that they will be able to have the financial aid to last them all four years,” said Stewart, GSU’s Miss Covergirl and a public relations major from Columbia, Maryland.
Stewart, 21, believes actions speak louder than words. “I appreciate that Gallot went to the meeting because you should always want to meet the person in charge, but I don’t feel that it was beneficial.”
When Gallot met Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), he saw why it was important for him to establish relationships. The senator told Gallot that he grew up as a big fan of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson and the Bayou Classic football game. “Who knew that a senator from Florida was a fan of coach Eddie Robinson at the Bayou Classic?” said Gallot.
Gallot did not accept the invitation until he spoke with the student government president, the alumni association and the faculty senate.
Grambling State University’s president is looking forward to the possibility of more funding for HBCUs and the fulfillment of Trump’s promise to make HBCUs a priority.
“I think it was important that President Gallot went so that our university can have a voice at the table. I do hope that something positive comes out of the meeting so that it can benefit our university. I’m a little on the fence about this executive order because what we see from Trump already as a president, however I want to remain optimistic and see how it goes,” said Endiah Green, the White House Initiative’s HBCU All-Star from Gambling State University.
“I think it’s really important that Gallot did go because he was trying to push for the betterment of HBCUs,” said senior Breonna Ward, 21, an elementary education major from Dallas.
“It’s important that he and other HBCU presidents went just to fight for us, let them know that we’re there and see what we can do to better ourselves fundingwise. … The things that we can do with the little money that we have is amazing, so just think of the things that we can do if we had money to actually afford to do it.”
Ward said she was aware that a lot of people opposed Gallot going to the White House. “I’d rather somebody go and hear what somebody has to say whether you agree with it or not than not go and not have a voice at all,” said Ward.
“It helps with trying to get Trump possibly on the same page and to see what his ideas were for higher education of African-Americans,” said senior Allen Mays, 23, a double major in history and mass communication from Little Rock, Arkansas. “Trump was trying to appease the people and there is no weight behind it yet.”
Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick attended the White House meeting, but according to Frederick, his presence was brief.
“My schedule is driven by the university’s priorities and as such, I was only able to attend a short portion of the White House meeting and could not be present for the discussions with the Secretary of Education and the vice president,” said Frederick. “I also could not attend the congressional symposium. Consequently, I cannot report firsthand on the outcomes of those sessions.”
And while Frederick did not stay at White House during the entire duration, Howard students expressed differing views on his recent decisions to align himself with the Trump administration.
“While I understand the scope of people’s distaste about HBCU presidents meeting with Trump, one must understand that several of these schools are privately and federally funded. So establishing some type of relationship is integral in its well-being,” said Malcolm Friday, a senior electrical engineering from Richmond, Virginia.
“I don’t expect anything to come from this HBCU executive order … especially given the bigoted behavior that Trump’s presence has brought,” said Collin Scott, a junior computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee.
Since his private meeting visit with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Feb. 9, Frederick has met with resistance from some student activists, including Concerned Students, 1867, who after DeVos’ visit released a list of six demands on Feb. 12, that included a call for Frederick and Howard to “ban” Trump from university buildings.
Recently, graffiti and vandalism were found on across campus accusing Frederick of being a “Trump Plantation Overseer” as well as claims of the HBCU initiative “coonin’ ” for Howard. HU Resist also interrupted Howard’s 150th Charter Day Convocation on March 2, making a statement on their right to protest and asking Frederick which side was he on.
“The concerned students of HU Resist are here today to deliver a message,” said a HU Resist member with a megaphone. “President Wayne Frederick, someone might have convinced you that money is more important than people. We are asking you in this moment to choose us — to take a stand for us and to do right by us.”
Here’s what others at Howard had to say:
“In terms of Howard President Frederick meeting with President Donald Trump, I feel as though it makes sense to a certain degree. Whether people agree with his methodologies and thoughts, he is our commander in chief, and we have to work to the best of our abilities to make it work to our advantage despite everything else that is going on. Furthermore, I feel like the executive order may be beneficial after further research, but it is being taken for purely face value now,” said Tariq Johnson, a junior chemical engineering major from Atlanta.
“I believe that President Frederick wasn’t wrong in meeting with President Trump. He simply wanted to listen to what Trump’s administration wanted to say/propose to HBCUs, not blatantly follow their orders. I think a couple of Howard students responded extremely to the meeting and their response is not a representation of the attitude of the Howard community,” said Bakare Awakoaiye, a junior biology major from Oakland, California.
“Obviously, it’s a volatile situation and HBCU students are caught in a difficult position. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that Trump has been openly and subtly racist in the past. But, running a university goes past being a social justice warrior, and sometime you have to make moral sacrifices for the sake of business,” said Jabarri Charles-Barnes, a junior economics and sports management double major from Trinidad and Tobago.
“As a student of an HBCU, I feel a sense of pride with the executive order to place emphasis on HBCUs and acknowledge their importance. And I therefore believe it makes sense for President Wayne Frederick to meet with President Donald Trump in order to develop pleasant relations,” said Kirsteph Cassimire, a junior chemistry major from Trinidad and Tobago.
“I don’t expect anything to come from this HBCU initiative. Especially given the bigoted behavior that Trump’s presence has brought,” said Collin Scott, a junior computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee.
Morgan State University
The campus erupted into debate after President David Wilson attended the meeting with Trump administration officials.
“After consulting with students, alumni, and faculty, I decided to go,” said Wilson.
“I wanted to make sure the Trump administration had an appreciation for historically black colleges and universities of this nation to make sure they knew the talent from these schools have enabled America. And I did not want any alternative facts being said,” said Wilson.
Some students questioned Trump’s intentions for the meeting.
“It was valuable for him to go, but you never know their true intention, it’s like making a deal with the devil in my eyes,” said freshman Dasia Bailey.
How would it benefit students and advance the needs of the campus?
“I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the money or representation that we deserve, but this certainly was not enough,” said senior Zanha Armstrong.
Another student was suspicious that Trump was using these distinguished black men and women just for a photo opportunity.
“Immediately, I thought it was nothing but a photo op on Trump’s end,” said senior Tramon Lucas. “I did not think at all that there was going to be anything meaningful behind it. But as far as President Wilson, to talk about the conversation, you have to go and be about the conversation.”
Said senior Lorenzo Moore, “Just them meeting with President Trump is a start of something, it’s better than nothing.”
North Carolina A&T
Spring break at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro began last Friday.
But associate vice chancellor for university relations Todd Simmons told Fox8.com, “There are discussions that we need to have around resources that have typically flown to predominantly white institutions more abundantly than they have to HBCUs, so that has created inequalities over generations that have significantly disadvantaged places like this.”
Track standout Aaron Deane had an intriguing opinion regarding chancellor Harold Martin’s attendance at the HBCU presidents’ meetings. “I feel that the chancellor is furthering himself out of touch with the students he serves. First, he requests for tuition hikes for the last four years, now he’s meeting with the most opposed [person] by the black community in the 21st century.”
Deane’s teammates Ron Cubbage and Derrick Wheeler had different sentiments, however. “I feel like this is a good meeting for the president considering he may not know the importance of HBCUs and our chancellors can bring notice to him. Although we are not sure it will work, it is worth a shot,” said Wheeler. “I would like to see more funding allotted to HBCUs so that we can grow as an institution with our campuses and scholarships. Trying to give the same opportunities given at PWIs [predominantly white institutions] at our colleges.”
Cubbage, a white pole vaulter who does not support Trump, said, “I feel encouraged. We cannot let a man be a deterrent in the pursuit of equality, and academic achievement amongst all people. For the moment, we are stuck with the leader we have, and it is therefore a wise choice for those who might not benefit from his administration to show him that their cause is one of importance and the embodiment of American principles. He may be a man that seems to cause disagreement, but to ignore him is to let any existing disagreement grow into a rift that will become harder to mend over time.”