As Coppin State University prepares to host a town hall style meeting to discuss the plight of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the West Baltimore institution embodies the mission of the HBCU and the systemic challenges they face. The event, scheduled for 6:30 pm May 13, will examine the implications of the Coalition for Excellence and Equity in Higher Education’s lawsuit against the state of Maryland. A subsequent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake found the state in violation of the U.S. Constitution for operating a system of higher education still rooted in segregation.

“The Coalition lawsuit gives us an opportunity to revisit an issue that has been a part of education from … Brown v. Board and before and we’re still dealing with that now the disparities that exist in higher education,” said Virletta Bryant, associate professor of social work at Coppin.

Bryant is also the school’s faculty senate president, which has taken a leadership role in organizing the HBCU town hall meeting. “There still has not been enough done to close the gap between HBCU and traditionally White institutions. HBCU are still not at parity … whether you look at it from a capital perspective, whether you’re looking at it from a resource perspective whether you’re looking at it from a programmatic perspective,” Bryant said. “Understanding the lawsuit and the needs of Coppin requires one to understand the broader context and the history that shapes this current lawsuit.”

Bryant argues the Coalition lawsuit clearly has broader implications beyond the fate of the four schools – Coppin, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, and Bowie State University – it represents.

“The framers recognize that this is something that has hurt all the HBCU and the response needs to be one that is equal to the framing of the issue. I do know that we as the HBCU community need to increase collaboration and that is something that I have not seen in the past,” she said.

“The good thing is that we have a more diverse pool of people that are going to college or who are applying for college, but we’ve got to position ourselves to be able to meet their needs. And I think that’s something that HBCUs historically have done well and again, they’ve done it with limited resources,” Bryant added.

However, given the current political climate, e.g. the organized political attempt at voter suppression in several states and the recent Supreme Court ruling effectively upholding Michigan’s affirmative action ban, makes fulfilling the mission of the HBCU that much more harrowing in 2014.

“We’re at this point in time where a lot of the things that we have worked for we’re now watching them from the perspective of being in jeopardy,” Bryant said.

“Despite all of the starvation, despite all of the racism HBCUs have experienced since their existence … despite all of those challenges we have still been able to educate and improve the lives of generations. So, I feel that our best days are ahead of us.”


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor