A group of extraordinary HBCU students unite with Spelman's Mary-Pat Hector to present the Trump administration with a plan of action in this exclusive open letter.
We are here to secure the bag!
For those who do not know, the term “secure the bag” refers to one attaining and maintaining funds. Throughout this letter, you may ask yourself, 'Who are we?' When I speak of we, I mean students of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This letter was not written to attack your character or to request any handouts, but rather to ensure that the students attending or planning to attend these institutions get what we were promised by President Trump. At the beginning of Donald Trump’s term, he stated in a meeting with HBCU presidents that their institutions would be on his agenda and would be a priority. After their faces were plastered on pictures that garnered national attention, it seemed that we were quickly forgotten. I hate to be so blunt, but “The Blacks” are tired of being exploited for his convenience.
My name is Mary-Pat Hector. I am not only the National Youth Director of National Action Network, but I am also a rising junior at ‘THE’ Spelman College. I understand that I am not the voice for my entire community, but the truth is, HBCUs need help. It is no secret that our institutions are in trouble. HBCUs receive an inequitable percentage of government money in comparison to non-HBCUs. Omarosa, as a product of two HBCUs, Black students believed that with your presence, the Trump administration would put its money where its mouth is. Brown University receives the least number of governmental funds amongst Ivy League schools at $3.2 billion dollars. Howard University is one of the wealthiest HBCUs, yet their allocated government funds total no more than $586.1 million. While many may not see the importance of our institutions, we do and we need the funding to keep them afloat.
While scrolling down my Twitter timeline, I've noticed that nearly everyone has an opinion on this matter. I am here to say that neither I, nor any of the students mentioned below, are against meeting with you to help secure funding for HBCUs and to ensure young people of color have equal opportunity access to a plethora of higher education options. While many of us are admittedly not supporters of Trump’s presidency based on what has been presented thus far, it does not mean that we wouldn’t support him supporting our schools.
As an African-American woman, I have been in rooms where people have discredited my work and questioned my presence due to my race and gender, blaming affirmative action for my success. At many tables, I have been perceived as the “token” amongst both Caucasian and African-American peers. It was the knowledge that I gained and continue to gain from Spelman College, my HBCU, that made me comfortable and prepared to remain in those rooms. This is the same knowledge that Black women have been receiving from my institution since its inception on April 11, 1881. My school changed my life and I ask that you convey to your peers and President that institutions like Spelman have educated Black students when nobody else would.
As has been the case with some of the many other broken promises from this administration to date, recently announced funding cuts will potentially hurt us -- students and people of color -- first. Education cuts are dangerous for all institutions, not just HBCUs, but history has proven that minorities always receive the short end of the stick. It is heartbreaking that the Trump administration sees no value in the future of many of the very citizens who they were elected and appointed to serve. For HBCUs, education is our only way to better improve our lives and opportunities, given that we were once denied it. That is why HBCUs were started in the first place. If nobody values us, we value ourselves, despite what happens in this society.
During my conversations with many students, their concerns were less about Trump’s personal political views and more about your administration’s follow through on issues that affect us most.
Nycole Hicks is a student at Central State University. CSU was founded in 1887 in Wilberforce, Ohio. She stated that although she is not a supporter of Trump, she appreciated the initial helping hand that appeared to be extended from the White House to HBCUs. What she cannot accept is that after extending this olive branch, there has been a lack of follow through from the Trump administration. She feels it only adds to the administration's growing list of broken promises to the Black community.
Tylik McMillan is a rising junior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. This institution was founded on March 9, 1891 and is one of the largest public HBCUs in this nation. He also had an opinion on the lack of support, 5 months following Trump’s vocalized “interest” in supporting our institutions. Tylik feels his HBCU gives students a chance and opportunity to break barriers who would not have had that chance otherwise. Like the rest of us, he firmly believes students of color should have just as much of a chance at pursuing higher education as any other students.
According to The Network Journal, among African-Americans, HBCUs have produced 40 percent of the members of Congress, 12.5 percent of the nation’s CEOs, 40 percent of engineers, 50 percent of non-HBCU professors, 50 percent of lawyers and 80 percent of judges. McMillan feels that the only thing that was gained from the meeting on February 27, 2017 where 45 Presidents and Chancellors of HBCU’s that met with the President, was a photo-op.
Chavon Banks, another student from your Alma Mater, Central State University, echoed McMillan's concerns. She believes Trump is more worried about his self-image than keeping his promises to help HBCUs. She stressed that the administration smiled in the faces of minority students, then proposed cuts to programs that will hurt Black students behind their backs. One way that this was done was by reducing work study and grant-based programs that HBCU students depend on. She believes that if someone in such an influential position of leadership takes the time to initiate conversations about such a major plan of action that would have an enormously positive impact on HBCU students and staff, then they should follow through!
20-year-old Minister Warren Hawkins III recognizes the beauty of an HBCU experience. Being an alum of both Central State University & Howard University, he asks that you remember yourself in our shoes and that you don’t take a back seat to the opportunity to truly make a difference for Black students in America who are now where you once were. Hawkins, a student of Clark Atlanta University, believes that goals like former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s proposed 25 billion dollar investment in HBCUs could be possible.
Morehouse College student Courtlynd Mallory believes otherwise, due to the President publicly showing his disdain for HBCUs and implying that they are unconstitutional. Because of Trump's openly disparaging comments about HBCUs and lack of follow through, Mallory feels that the only way Trump's support would be accepted as genuine at this stage is through funding. He also cites the potentially devastating effects of several other factors with regard to people of color, including the rising rates of inflation, Betsy DeVos' approval of predatory loans and inflated interest rates, and the administrations' plans to provide the top 1/10 of Americans with a 3 trillion-dollar tax break.
These factors combined lead many of us to believe that any offer of money from our government is likely to have strings attached; for example, being subjected to involuntary drafting or sent to prison after inevitably defaulting on loans, should the plans above be implemented. Summing up his thoughts, Mallory says: "The only way any government funding would be accepted as a genuine effort to help sustain HBCUS is if it came in the form of grant money without any predatory clauses. Unfortunately, given their track record so far, no one expects charity or humility from this administration and any signs of it at this point will likely be met with strict skepticism and analysis, as there is almost certainly a catch.”
Simply put, these institutions are a part of our country’s history and deserve to live. For more than 100 years, people of color have looked to these schools to help them achieve the “American Dream.” It seems to have done just that for you. Our goal is to ensure that Black and Brown students of today and tomorrow are educated in an environment where they feel safe and where they can grow, both professionally and personally. We are here for our equal opportunity and hope you can support and assist in our request for just that. As mentioned above in this letter, Hillary Clinton proposed a plan to allocate 25 billion dollars for HBCU funding. Clinton’s plan was inspired by the America’s College Promise Act, introduced to Congress last July by Rep. Bobby Scott, which was designed to create new pathways to four-year degrees at HBCUs, as well as other MSIs.
Our desired plan of action is below for your review and feedback. We are requesting:
-A taskforce of students of HBCUs from different political backgrounds be formed.
This purpose of this will stress the importance of funding for our schools and work with the administration to actually see how funding can be allocated and distributed amongst our institutions.
We would like our point of contact to be you, as we are uninterested in being a part of this administration's continued exploitation of our black bodies for the benefit of their image.
-Increased funding for public schools with high rates of enrollment for low and middle-income students.
As a result, HBCUs, which play a key role in educating underserved students, will be eligible for proportionally more support.
-Confirmation that Pell recipients at these public HBCUs can direct their full Pell funding toward living expenses.
A crucial necessity for our students.
-Establishment of a dedicated $25 billion fund allocated to HBCUs.
As outlined by Hillary Clinton, this fund will promise to provide support to private, nonprofit schools that serve low and middle-income students and help them build the skills they need, of which private HBCUs are a prime example.
-Provisions for students with debt to refinance their loans at low current rates.
Parents with PLUS loans will also be able to refinance at current rates.
-Extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit
This extendion should allow for the $1,000 refundable credit to included to be distributed to low-income families sending their sons and daughters to these schools.
-Confirmation that parents who borrow through the Parent PLUS program will not have to be subjected to such high levels of debt just to send their children and grandchildren to these schools.
This will hopefully provide for an increase in the number of students of color who have the opportunity to attend college.
-Provisions for students to never have loan repayment amounts totaling more than 10 percent of their monthly income.
Overwhelming amounts of student loan debt has had a historically detrimental impact on all students post-graduation, but specifically on students and families of color.
-Builds on programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP to invest in student support.
This should also include child care for students who are parents and also help all students stay in school and boost completion rates.
In closing, we hope we have left you with a better understanding of the urgency in this matter and also hope you take what we have presented into consideration.
Mary-Pat Hector, Student of Spelman College
Nycole Hicks, Student of Central State University
Tylik McMillan, Student of North Carolina A&T University
Chavon Banks, Student of Central State University
Warren Hawkins III, Student of Clark Atlanta University
Courtlynd Mallory, Student of Morehouse College