HBCUs Have a Duty to Promote Racial Justice

Historically Black Colleges are not Necessarily Safe Spaces for Black Students

Clare Xanthos, PhD

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Photo by Liz Falconer on Unsplash

The prevailing thought in the Black community is that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are safe spaces where Black students get a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime chance to not be a marginalized minority; to experience a discrimination-free higher education; and to be treated as a human-being, as opposed to struggling through the typical “learning-while-Black” experience. This feel-good image of HBCUs was somewhat diminished following two racially-charged incidents at the end of 2022.

Winston-Salem State University

The most recent racialized incident took place in December 2022 at Winston-Salem State University, a historically Black college in North Carolina. It involved Black student, Leilla Hamoud and non-Black History professor, Cynthia Villagomez, who got into an argument about an assignment. The police were called, allegedly by a second professor, which resulted in Hamoud being arrested. Some of the video footage shows Villagomez, with a white professor, holding hands in a defiant “us against them” fashion, illustrating the underlying racial tension.

Tennessee State University

Prior to the case at Winston-Salem State, another racially-charged confrontation was captured on video in November 2022, this time, at a different HBCU — Tennessee State University. In the video, Robert Pickard, a white History professor is seen aggressively shouting at a Black student. In what appears to be a hate-filled rage, Pickard gets right in the student’s face, showing no respect for personal space.

Some Personal Observations

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Clare Xanthos, PhD

WRITER. AUTHOR. SCHOLAR. Interests: Racial Equity, Racial Health Equity, Racial Justice. Co-Editor: Social Determinants of Health among African-American Men