‘Where Everybody Looks Like Me’ and the Challenges Facing HBCUs

by: Granville M. Sawyer Jr. Special to the AFRO
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In “Where Everybody Looks Like Me,” author Ron Stodghill writes about the status of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in America focusing on the challenges leaders of these institutions face.  bookreviewimageStodghill contends that HBCU presidents aren’t effectively addressing challenges threatening the very existence of their institutions including; a waning black middle class, conservative state legislators who want to shut down or merge HBCU’s with other schools and steep federal funding cuts that reduce operating funds and financial aid for students.

Stodghill writes extensively about leadership and administrative crises at several HBCUs including Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Morris Brown University in Atlanta. Stodghill also writes about the challenges HBCUs face recruiting and retaining the most talented students and administrators—key assets who are lured away by mainstream universities with more money and resources.

Throughout the book the author described the deficits at HBCUs including dysfunctional boards, mismanagement of funds and an inability to generate alumni support.  He also cites President Obama’s speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta where he said HBCU’s and students attending them must take more responsibility for their educational experiences and professional success after graduation.

At various points in this discussion, Stodgill shifts his focus from what HBCUs need to do better to what they are uniquely qualified to do well—for example, the unique nurturing environment, especially for first in family college students, HBCUs provide.  He quotes Dr. Beverly Tatum, former president of Atlanta’s Spelman College who said  “The fact is that many HBCUs offer an environment where people are rooting for you and saying, ‘You are going to graduate,’ because they know who these kids are and where they are coming from.”  He goes on to describe several black students’ feelings of isolation and their inability to fit in at mainstream universities that lack this nurturing environment.

These shifts in focus occur several times throughout the book—switching from a litany of crises at HBCUs to students’ personal experiences and back again.   This detracts from continuity and a consistent theme for the book.  However, the book’s most glaring shortfall is the lack of solutions for the problems the author so thoroughly researched and reported.

He offers few ideas of his own or recommendations from other educators on how to deal with the important issues facing HBCUs or how to make a stronger case for HBCUs based on an educational environment unmatched at mainstream universities.  Not enough is written about the important contribution to higher education HBCUs make by providing talented capable students with educational opportunities they can find nowhere else. Opportunities that may elude them because majority institutions only seem to believe the “talented tenth,” as W.E.B. Dubois described them, have the best chance to obtain a college education.

Stodghill does a very good job of describing and discussing two important aspects of HBCUs in America – the need for strong, visionary innovative leadership and the nurturing environment they provide that many minority students need to do well in college.  However, better integration of these themes coupled  with suggested targeted solutions would have made for a more successful exploration of these important subjects.

Dr. Granville M. Sawyer Jr., the, author of “College in Four Years: Making Every Semester Count” is a professor of finance and director of the MBA program at Bowie State University in Baltimore, Maryland. An authority on helping minority students achieve success in higher education, Dr. Sawyer writes about education and life at GranvilleSawyer.com.

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