The past few days have seen a new wave of bomb threats against historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Domestic terrorist attacks have a long history left and right, including here at MSU. Specifically to this wave of threats against the HBCUs, and any racist bombing threats or attempts, my mind turned to the 1963 racist bombing of the 16and Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, resulting in the injury of dozens of people and the murder of four daughters: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair.
This bombing struck a chord in the country, prompting calls for action, progress, insight and justice. But it wasn’t until 1977 that anyone was tried for the murders. Reading the story will be a reminder of the national response, or lack thereof, to the murders of Emmett Till and George Floyd. As always, our story has a story.
Every week during Black History Month, I try to write something relevant in the Dean’s Update, or rather I hope to encourage people to seek out and learn something relevant to the Month of black history. HBCUs have long held a special place in our communities, and these institutions have been leaders in creating opportunity and expertise for Americans, especially African Americans.
The initial HBCU system was created from a land grant model with the Morrill Act of 1890, although this history is complex. The second Morrill Act (the first was from 1862) required states to establish a separate land-grant college for blacks if the existing land-grant college used race as a requirement for admission. HBCUs are found primarily in the states of the Confederacy. On the one hand, this legislation created new opportunities and, on the other hand, it foreshadowed the injustices committed by Plessy v. Ferguson. (You can also read more about Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Tribal Colleges and Universities, both designated in the Higher Education Act of 1965).
In modern times, HBCUs are great educational institutions in their own right, helping people in every state access the benefits of higher education, leading discovery, and engaging in impressive community outreach. I asked one of our own, a national leader in medical education, to give me some insight into her experience as an undergraduate student at an HBCU.
“I was fortunate enough to attend the University of Lincoln, Pennsylvania as a first-generation undergraduate student. The faculty and administrators helped me develop a sense of purpose and focus in an environment where I was supported and challenged. I needed encouragement to believe I could succeed after attending segregated—separate and unequal—public schools in the South. I met lifelong mentors who put me in touch with the University of Washington and Michigan State University. Without that start at Lincoln, I don’t know what path I would have followed.
Wanda Lipscomb, PhD, HBCU graduate
HBCUs make up less than 5% of American colleges and universities, but 60% of African Americans who become medical professionals go to an HBCU. About 40% of African Americans who earn higher STEM-related degrees go to an HBCU at some point in their education. (National Association for Equal Opportunities in Higher Education)
Xavier University of Louisiana is one of the strongest institutional educators of African Americans entering medical school. Our college has had some wonderfully successful students from Xavier, and our college has signed an enhanced opportunity program thanks to the great work of Dr. Liz Lyons and the Office of Admissions team. Xavier ULA is among the colleges facing bomb threats this week. I can’t imagine trying to deal with this new injustice and the hateful message behind it. My thoughts are with President Verret, his students, faculty and staff.
As you all know, the university has completed its new strategic plan and a diversity, equity and inclusion plan. This week the college launched its own strategic planning process. The college needs a plan that addresses the university’s strategic and DEI plans, as well as new and changing partnerships across the state. While it would be great to initiate a college strategic plan once the Dean’s search is complete, we need to do our work on a schedule that respects the college’s accreditation schedule. In addition, the visit to the college’s LCME accreditation site is scheduled for next March. Realistically, we need to start the strategic planning process now in order to do our job and document it for our accreditation work.
It would be nice to ask people to do the accreditation work at a different time than we ask people to sit on the committees of the strategic planning working group, but we try to do both at the same time. So, I appreciate everyone helping with this, and I especially want to thank Carol Parker who does double duty in helping to engage the strategic planning group and as one of the central people in the LCME effort. Either is a big job, managing both efforts is kind of ridiculous.
This week we had a good discussion at the leadership meeting regarding the integration of Henry Ford faculty into our departments. Each MSU department follows its usual rules for adding faculty to its department. Some departments, and I’m looking at physiology here, have 30 or more professors to evaluate. It’s just a tremendous amount of work, and I appreciate everyone’s hard work in this effort.
Next week, the Deans’ Update and Town Hall are absent, so expect them to return to their usual place on February 18.
So many people have done so much work for so long, thank you.
Be well, wear your mask, support vaccination and reminders.
Serve people with you,
Aron Sousa, MD