Higher Education Webinar: The Role of HBCUs in the United States
Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University, leads a conversation on the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I am Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Tony Allen with us today to talk about the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States. Dr. Allen is president of Delaware State University. Previously, he served as the university’s executive vice president and provost. In 2021, Dr. Allen was appointed by President Biden to chair the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And he also served as CEO of Biden’s Presidential Inaugural Committee. Prior to his time at Delaware State University, he worked at the Bank of America for thirteen years, where he developed and led the Corporate Reputation Group. And he is the founding president of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, co-founder of Public Allies Delaware, and chair emeritus of the National Urban Fellows.
So, Tony, thank you very much for being with us today. I want to just turn it over to you to talk about the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in higher education in the United States historically and today.
ALLEN: Thank you for having me. It’s a real pleasure to be with all of you, certainly with the Council on Foreign Relations.
I just want to start—personally, I am a first-generation college student, and my mother was a teenage mom and my father never finished the eleventh grade. So being able to be in this role means a lot to me from a proximity standpoint, and really being able to guide one of the nation’s leading HBCUs is really the professional dream of my life. So I take this very personally, in addition to trying to run a great institution.
With respect to Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country, we are almost at 175 years in existence. I don’t think I need to tell anybody on the phone that we were started for some very specific reasons as it related to higher education access for African American students, but we have really become a powerhouse, a force not only in the African American community but in the broader citizenry at large. There are only 3 percent of Historically Black—excuse me, there are three thousand colleges and universities in the country; only 3 percent are historically Black colleges. Only 3 percent. But even today, we still produce 20 percent of all Black graduates. So just think about that for a moment, the power of our return on investment across many, many disciplines.
You may have heard these numbers, but 80 percent of Black judges and lawyers start out in an HBCU. More than 50 percent of all Black doctors started at an HBCU. Forty percent of Black congressmen today started at an HBCU. And the number-one driver for lower-income African American people to get into the American middle class today is still their attendance at a Historically Black College or University.
So the real power and frame of our institutions are significant, but our voices over the years have been quieter. We don’t have the same kinds of profile. A lot of it has to do with the fact that many of us are still low-resource institutions, even though we’re providing great value to the students that come here.
Since the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others during that summer of 2020, we’ve actually seen our profile grow significantly. We’ve tried to take advantage of that to tell the HBCU story in a much richer way than we had been able to do in the past, and we think that’s had some significant merit. I can tell you when we think about COVID-19 we say that one pandemic—COVID-19 itself—exposed another, which is continuing: race relations in America.
And when I thought about it this time around—we’ve had these kinds of experiences as it relates to public safety, interaction with police for a long, long time here—but this felt like the first time that so many folks were watching the same thing. So regardless of where you come from or what you look like, you could not turn your eyes away from some of the tragic incidents we saw in that summer. And I think that has people thinking in a much more deliberate and different way. Couple that with what we’ve seen with respect to the elections that ensued, the political unrest that came after that, we find ourselves in a place where Historically Black Colleges and Universities are becoming a real sign—true sign of opportunity for folks, again regardless of what you look like or where you come from, that are otherwise underserved or locked out of the education system.
There are 101 of them. Some of you will know what I’d say are the usual suspects: the Howard Universities of the world, the Morehouse, the Spelman, North Carolina A&T, FAMU. But there are 101 across the country. We spend our time not only providing the type of quality education that our students deserve, but also being engines of social justice and change, and research for that matter. So our ability to look through a lens with respect to research, regardless of discipline, is unique in the space because we’re able to come from a place where we are trying to understand the forces and phenomena of the world, and often how those forces and phenomena disproportionately affect people who don’t have as much as others. We take great pride in that as well.
I also would like to talk a little bit about the communities we find ourselves in. You usually find an HBCU adjacent to or very much in a low-resource community. What that means for that community is that they are an economic engine for that community. The 101 HBCUs at last look contributed more than $14 billion collectively to the gross domestic product in the country. So we’re not just educational institutions, but real forces of economic opportunity and growth as well.
I like to say I think we are the best return on value in the higher-education landscape because of who we prepare. So many of our students are first-generation college students like me. More than three-quarters of them are Pell Grant-eligible, which I think you know is a low-income standard. And we are changing the trajectory of their lives and their family’s lives. So being able to spend time thinking through what that means not only as it relates to opening economic doors of opportunity for them, but also giving them this notion that it’s not simply enough to graduate, get a great job; you also have to give back as you’ve been given, too, which is a theme I’d say across the HBCU landscape. I think it’s why you find so many African American leaders in this country across disciplines, as I mentioned, having gotten their start at an HBCU, because there is this ethic of service that really threads the needle across the HBCU landscape.
Having said that, you heard my role as chair of the Board of Advisors for the president on HBCUs. That board has been around since 1976, really started under President Carter. And there has been an executive order issued each year to make sure that the White House initiative on HBCUs gets its attention and the board helps serve a role of guidance and oversight.
Let me give you a sense of the four priorities we are just beginning to outline in that role. As you know, we just named the full council about two weeks ago, and we are thinking about four things that we really want to focus on.
First is infrastructure. At HBCUs there’s a systemic disparity between HBCUs and other similarly situated universities who are predominantly white. That has a lot to do with the fact that we were not always able to, and in some cases still don’t, get equitable funding for our living and learning spaces. So while we’re able to provide the quality education, we want the environment to look like the quality education that our students are receiving. That’s particularly important for any number of reasons, most notably our ability to attract and retain our students over the long term as well as some faculty and staff when you think about the learning spaces as it relates to laboratory and research. Being able to have first-class operations there really sends a message about our—how serious we are about creating the right environment.
Second is the opportunity for us to access more partnerships and, quite frankly, dollars from the federal government by really being able to engage in a thoughtful way with those institutions. Many of those institutions, as you know, provide research grants and other support to many institutions—higher-education institutions throughout the country. We want to make sure that we’re getting our fair share of that as well. Some of you probably know that there are three research classifications put out by Carnegie: research 1, research 2, and research 3. Research 1 is the highest, and there are no HBCUs that have cracked that threshold of research 1. That’s important, as well. As I said, lots of the research we do crosses any number of disciplines, but when you’re thinking about building capacity for the longer term you do want to have a few, I would say, comprehensive research 1 HBCUs. That’s a bit priority, I know, for the president, and certainly has been and will be for the council. And it’s a growing movement that folks are just beginning to talk about in a real thoughtful and focused way.
The third is more support for low-resource students. We’ve had some progress, actually, on that score. There have been some increases in Pell. In the president’s budget, in fact, there’s a $2,100 increase. That has a lot of significance for continuing to retain our students. I can tell you on any number of occasions the number-one factor, particularly for low-resource students, is their ability to continue to pay. And some of that is significantly reduced from a burden perspective by scholarships and the like, but oftentimes even those small dollars—things we might think of as small dollars—are really significant dollars not only to their students, but to their families. So having more opportunities for tuition support in particular is critical.
And then the last one is focusing on the smaller HBCUs in our space. So, like I said, you have historically heard of the more notable HBCUs—as I said, Howard University, Morehouse, Spelman, et cetera—but there are a subset of smaller HBCUs that are delivering first-class quality education that need our attention and support. I say that to my HBCU colleagues as much as I do to anybody else. When one of us is uplifted, we all need to figure out a way to uplift everyone else. And that’s important now more than ever because there’s been such an attention on the HBCU community.
So I’ve probably talked too much, but—(laughs)—just as an opening salvo just wanted to give you a sense of the scale, the importance, and the ongoing impact of the HBCU community.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Tony. That was really terrific.
We’re going to go now to all of you for questions and comments.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
So I’m going to go first to Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome.
Q: Thank you very much.
HBCUs are very important. I’m from Brooklyn College. I teach political science. But you know, and I think they punch way above their weight, but there’s a persistent underfunding of HBCUs. So what will it take for these institutions to be funded well enough so that they can do the good job that they are doing with less stress and more excellence?
ALLEN: Great question. Two responses.
First, under the Biden administration, since he took office, HBCUs have received about $5.8 billion in additional incremental support. A lot has to do with COVID for sure. And we, like most colleges and universities, were significantly impacted from a revenue standpoint with respect to COVID. But that historic funding is an important first step. I always say it’s a first step, it’s not the only step, because I think to your question relative to sustainability of our institutions it is critical that we have deeper, more significant, and sustained partnerships, I’d say particularly with the federal government. As I said, there are lots of opportunities for us to do good work there. We’ve made some good progress at Delaware State with the USDA, who has increased their funding significantly this year and in years prior. We just completed a memorandum of understanding with USAID last fall and we expect that to have some meritorious results too. We all have relationships with the likes of NIH and NSF, but not—certainly not enough. So really having a sustained effort that folks can goal against. So if you are in a specific department relative to your engagement with HBCUs, we are making that a priority. The president has already done that himself; just our responsibility to make sure that folks are following through. So that’s first order of business.
Second, there are some unique partnerships that have emerged, again, in the wake of summer 2020. So there have been a significant onslaught of support for HBCUs. But what I have tried to do, at least from a Delaware State perspective, is create unique opportunities for that funding to not be one time. Case in point, we’ve gotten a couple million dollars from two major banks in the country. And instead of simply being able to use that for ongoing scholarship support or other needs that we have at the university, we built a career pathways program that is really allowing us to access a number of employers who want to engage with HBCUs but just don’t know how. And that is creating a new pipeline. Not only is it going to help us with respect to placing our students, we actually think it’s a significant benefit to the companies themselves in both the cases. And one was Bank of America and one was JPMorgan Chase. Their funding has actually been catalytic in encouraging more corporate partners to take a look at HBCUs. And we think that is really, really important.
FASKIANOS: Great. Next, written question from Robert Ford, who’s retired from Southern University, Dillard, FVSU and Texas Southern University. And he went to Southern University Baton Rouge.
He didn’t hear anything about international development, especially Africa. Does your university have an international footprint? And does the HBCU White House initiative have an international program initiative? What progress can be cited?
ALLEN: Yeah, before I answer that question, I just want to shoutout every HBCU you mentioned. They’re all terrific—Southern, Dillard, I think you said Fort Valley State, and Texas Southern University. Incredible HBCUs in their own way.
With respect to my institution here at Delaware State, we actually have a Center for Global Africa. We started that Center four years ago now, run by a professor named Ezrah Aharone. And the idea is for us to push much of our curriculum and study to not only the African continent, but the African diaspora. So we see there are lots of opportunities for that to emerge. We’ve created some significant partnerships with the African Union and the like on that score. And I can tell you there are—I’m just mentioning the institutions that we’re more close to, but there are a number of HBCUs that are doing similar situations on the continent and in the diaspora. Most notably is Morgan State University led by President David Wilson.
And I think, as we continue to gain profile and momentum, I think you’ll see us internationally across the world in a much more clear and concerted effort. At Delaware State we actually have been on mainland China for seven years, having exported three programs there. One in accounting, one in physics, and one in sports management. And the interesting thing about that, in each of those programs, three different universities, 98 percent of those students are first-generation college students. So we have stayed true to our mission as we’ve gone international. We have some similar programs in Jamaica and Costa Rica as well. So we’re building capacity to make sure that we can take the HBCU experience across the continent.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Susan King, who has raised her hand.
Q: Let me just ask you—I’m at UNC, so I have a great interest in Howard and the new center at Howard that Nikole Hannah-Jones is doing, partly because she’s not coming with us. How will that benefit all the HBCUs, do you think?
ALLEN: That’s so funny. Her team has reached out to me, I think it was just last week, to talk about the Center for Journalism and how she wants to extend opportunities for aspiring Black journalists in particular at HBCUs, but also wants to help tell the HBCU story in a much more comprehensive way. So I can’t wait to spend time with her, and hopefully leverage her tremendous talent in doing that. I have said on many occasions, HBCUs have a great story, but we do not have enough storytellers. So being able to demystify what it has been that has really built a leadership talent pipeline, and the economic opportunity pipeline, for so many low-resource folks who are now leaders in our country, is a story that deserves its time in the sun. And we as presidents, my colleagues and I, have to be much more deliberate about that in our ongoing work. I’m hoping that the board of advisors and things like Professor Jones’ Center, gives us the kind of elevation we need so we can have other partners, like the Council on Foreign Relations, help us sustain that moment where we find ourselves.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. And I’m going to take the prerogative of the moderator. I mean, we here at CFR are very much committed to diversity and looking at the pipeline for—into the foreign policy track. So what are the things that you’re doing, that HBCUs are doing? And what could we be doing at CFR to help the next generation of leaders, graduates from HBCUs, get into diplomacy and State Department and just into this field?
ALLEN: So, great, thank you for making that point. Here’s what I would say—and this is not to you, but just to the broader community. First job is to show up. I have been—particularly in the corporate side, I find myself in a lot of corporate circles where CEOs are always saying, hey, we wish we could find more Black talent. We just can’t find them. And normally what I say is, you’re not looking hard enough. As I said, we’re producing over three hundred thousand Black graduates every year. And that’s just HBCUs. I haven’t talked about historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities. I have not talked about special associations that find themselves in respective disciplines. We are out here.
And in the case of the Council in particular, and my students don’t often think first about international development or diplomacy. And the way to get to have that sense is to be in conversation, regular conversations, with organizations like yours. A great example is we were able to bring the director of USAID, as I said to sign the MOU last fall. She talked about, first of all the largess of that institution, the number of critical opportunities that she would have across the organization. And you could see, our students just lit up because they didn’t know. That wasn’t their—weren’t their first thoughts.
The other thing I’d say is the more we’ve been doing this more and more, particularly at Delaware State but at HBCUs across the country, are creating more international opportunities. Remember, because we have so many first-generation college students, oftentimes that means those students are first-generation in many things. So they might not have gotten on a plane, might not have had the same dinner conversations that more well-suited families had when they were sitting down for dinner, and that sort of thing. So it behooves us to make sure that we come to them, and we come to them early.
The pipeline program that I talked about with you effectively says: If you want to be with Delaware State over the long term, don’t show up in our—in a student’s rising junior or rising senior year, looking for the best in class in our institution. Show up for the moment they come to the institution. So we’re creating a new kind of mentor network and opportunity so those students can learn what’s available to them, the institutions themselves can get a sense of the quality of our students, and they can have the kind of conversations they might not have their first day on the internship or their first day on the job, having not been in that environment or not been connected to that environment previously.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And there’s a nice note from Laurette Foster at Prairie View A&M University. So she’s at the HBCU Faculty Network. Thank you for your institution coming on board with the HBCU Faculty Development Network. And she says, we’re one of their great supporters. And that’s because of Laurette. So we usually go out to their annual conference in October to—in the fall, to present on CFR resources. And, we are looking for more opportunities like that with different networks to sort of connect, and talk, and sort of make connections so that we can start feeding that pipeline.
I’m going to go next to Jill Humphries, who’s raised her hand. You can unmute yourself. Thank you.
Q: Hello. Thank you.
First of all, I want to say, both of my questions—primary questions were asked—(laughs)—about the institutional pipeline for diplomacy and then also the way in which HBCUs are particularly going to be involved in national development. But so I’ll ask this question. I’ve been an education exchange professor several times in several African countries. And when I’ve interfaced with the embassies there, and they talk about opportunities for, in this particular context, African students coming to study in the U.S., and they give their presentations, they’ve always left off HBCUs. And I’ve had to, in fact, remind them—even though I’m teaching at University of Toledo in the African Studies Department.
So I am actually interesting in the way in which you’ve, at an institutional level, addressed this issue of whether it’s just benign oversight of when the public affairs officers at our embassies, wherever they are in the world, talk about exchange—educational exchange opportunities—there are so many under the ECA, Department of State’s ECA Bureau—that they include HBCUs. And then the other part of that is, how do you see the particular way in which HBCUs or, more specifically Black thought—Black political thought—may in fact influence our foreign affairs and diplomacy approach, particularly in Africa. Is there a unique, particular perspective that we bring, as African American or Black diaspora, in these arenas?
ALLEN: Well, the short answer is, yes. (Laughs.) To your last question. And I don’t limit that to products of HBCUs, necessarily, but I do think Black political thought generally speaking across the globe is important contextually for a couple of reason. One, the way in which Black Americans, in particular, have had to navigate the landscape here now for hundreds of years is an important lesson in perseverance, context, the framework of what I’d say classism, certainly sometimes racism is systemic in its effort, as well as sexism, which I think shows up particularly for Black women regularly as well.
The second part about that is as these things are happening across the world, I think our position relative to being able to influence is critical. This is an American point I’m going to make, but just remember—and this is no commercial for the president—but at the time that President Biden was running and the campaign was suffering mightily, there was a Black man in South Carolina, proud HBCU grad, Congressman Jim Clyburn who said: I know Joe Biden, and Joe Biden knows us. And it changed the state of his election. Talks significantly about our power bloc when we operationalize that. We don’t always do that in the American context, but when we do it’s clear and compelling. And I think I won’t go over the events that happened as a result of that.
The other point, I think your first question was just about how folks engage with HBCUs more clearly in the international space. It does really come down to two things. One, we think HBCU leaders like myself have to be much more concerted and thoughtful about where we see the opportunities. When you’re in a low-resource institution, a number of things come up that can take you away from building capacity for your institution. So you have to be deliberate about it. It’s one of the reasons I think the advisory board has had many iterations but this, in particular because of the moment, I think will put us in some positions that we have not seen before.
You may know that—I believe it’s in every federal department now—but the president is making it a point to have racial equity as a priority, and a person that’s in charge of that. So I think you’re going to see more opportunities there. I have not talked to as many federal government officials ever in my career as I have during this administration, because there’s a clear priority on it. But that is our job, to make sure that we’re telling that story, as I’ve said before.
Then I think the unique programs, particularly as it relates to international exchange, we talk a lot about students. I would make sure that we spend equal time trying to export our intellectual capital in our faculty too. They need the opportunities themselves. Many times have the expertise and more often than not, in my case, have unique partnerships in country because they’re—sometimes they’re from a set country. So being able to give them that support I think will have significant long-term results. But we have to be concerted in how we position all of it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question from Ambassador June Carter Perry, formerly of the State Department, retired, and former diplomat in residence at Howard University, and currently a board member at American Diplomacy Publishers in Chapel Hill. What is your relationship with national universities’ African American programs, such as the one at Princeton directed by Dr. Eddie Glaude?
ALLEN: I don’t have direct contact with Dr. Glaude. I’m aware of his work, but I don’t have direct contact there. I can tell you, and this could be a conversation for us, we have not been as concerted in developing those partnerships with national universities that have African American programs. Some of it has just to do with making sure that we’re elevating our voice in the conversation. And a lot of it is just historic stuff, I’d say. (Laughs.) And I know that’s not an academic word, but I’d say historic stuff between larger predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and HBCUs, particularly those who are in near proximity one to another. Sometimes limits our ability to be more thoughtful about those kinds of partnerships and collaboration. That’s no excuse. I just think that’s the reality.
What we do—how we do partner, particularly in the STEM disciplines, I think is more—is becoming more and more significant. For the first time, we got a—I think it’s a $10 million grant several years ago in partnership with the PWI up the street from us, University of Delaware, and it was the first time we were the lead partner in the grant. And that sends a lot of messages to my faculty and the importance of what they can do, and how they can lead really big grants. I think you’re beginning to see some of those partnerships emerge too across the landscape. So doing more on that score in disciplines that are not specific to African American programs I think is important. And certainly, really engaging thoughtfully with those institutions who are serious about the African American studies discipline is certainly important to us, but not near what we should be doing in this space.
FASKIANOS: Thanks, Tony. You referenced this a bit in your remarks, but can you talk about how the pandemic affected HBCUs, and how you’re coming out of it?
ALLEN: Yeah. I was reluctant to tell this story because I feel like I’ve told it a hundred times, but like other universities we sent our kids home in the March timeframe—all but about two hundred, because those two hundred were otherwise homeless without Delaware State University, literally. We knew that was, one, a proxy for some of the students we actually had sent home who were from very vulnerable situations, but we knew we had to keep at least those two hundred. That was significant for a couple of reasons. And this before any funding came our way—CARES Act, American Rescue Plan. We just used our own coffers to make sure that they were fed, that they were not getting anything, with respect to academic continuity that that was progressing nicely. In some cases we were sending money to them for them to send home.
What it was, was an opportunity for us to say—and we knew it deep down, but it was clear—that our students are coming to these institutions not just for the quote/unquote “college experience.” They’re trying to change their—largely, the economic trajectory for themselves, their families, and their communities. And it’s not easy. So our ability to get our students back on campus was the first order of business, and to do that quickly. We were able to develop a program with a place called Testing for America, which helped us develop our protocol, paid for all our tests for about two years, and allowed us to bring our students back right at the fall of 2020, and keep them safe throughout that time.
So we’re testing faculty, staff, and students three times a week, at that time. We were doing—aggressively, had really strong protocols, and had a less than 1 percent positivity rate on our campus, which we take great pride—took great pride in then, and take great pride in now. What I’d say for the broader HBCU community, we were fortunate. Some of my other colleagues weren’t as fortunate relative to being able to bring their students back quickly. A lot hangs on the fact that we don’t have major endowments. The resources, let’s say, like I said before, are often low as compared to our predominantly white peers. So it is significant.
And the problem is that if you’re not able to keep the academic continuity for many of my students, they will not come back. And we just couldn’t accept that. What I can say though is many in the HBCU community did pretty well based on these notions—that they knew who their students were, that they knew they were going to have to deliver something extra that was not foreign to them—sort of classic wraparound services that we already are known for, but to up that game wherever they found themselves, I think, was important for our own students’ survival.
And I think what you’ve seen, you’ve seen this generally at HBCU communities, certainly in Delaware State, our retention rates increased. Our graduation rates were up. And equally important, because of the summer of 2020, in many cases in the world HBCU’s enrollment has gone up, and students have taken a look at HBCUs, what that means for sort of their own cultural identity, and how they want to contribute to the world. And they’re choosing us in a much different way than they had been even five, ten years ago.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go to Jennifer Brinkerhoff. She doesn’t really have a question, but you might want to—if you want to just talk a little bit about your book.
Q: Yes. I’m not sure, can you hear me?
FASKIANOS: We can.
Q: Awesome. Thank you so much.
So we would be very pleased to engage with folks from HBCUs around a new book that I had the privilege of working on with Aaron Williams and Taylor Jack. Aaron Williams is retired USAID and was a sector leader in international affairs in the nonprofit sector of government and the private sector. And this was his legacy upon retirement, was to engage his peers, his colleagues, all of the giants who went before, to be able to collect advice and guideposts to the next generation of young Black leaders who were interested in international affairs.
So we would love to share that material with you, and with support from the Hewlett Foundation we are able to engage in some related events and provide copies of the book. So I can put my email address in the chat, but we’re very much interested in the intergenerational dialogue that this book represents, because we really believe that this is what the next generation needs, is to learn from those of you who went before and have succeeded, and know better than anybody else what the challenges are and how best to navigate them. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share this important work, and I hope that we can partner together. Thank you.
ALLEN: Hey, Jen, let me—let me just say quickly, I saw this question earlier. I already taped it—I mean, copied it and emailed it to myself before you—(laughs)—before you talked. So I do want to talk to you, one.
And then there is our chair of political science, economic development and international affairs, Dr. Donna Patterson, who will be a great point of contact for you. So please put your email in the chat and I’ll send you a note.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And if we could be sure we send it—and Jennifer you’re at George Washington University, correct?
Q: Yes, I am at GW, yeah.
And Pearl Robinson of Tufts has put in the chat, what’s the title of the book?
And the title of the book is The Young Black Leader’s Guide to a Successful Career in International Affairs. It’s in the Q&A, so you can get the link there.
All right. So if others have questions, please raise your hand.
I’m going to call upon President Verret to ask a question. I’m putting him on the spot, but.
Q: Thanks for putting me on the spot.
I guess the question that I would ask is also about the Americans—the nation's talent needed—from a national security perspective, also from an economic perspective, the talent that is needed to actually drive the American economy, drive America’s leadership position. And as the United States is becoming essentially majority-minority, can the United States—how important is it that we develop the talent that is in our underrepresented populations in order to sustain America’s leadership?
ALLEN: Yeah. Well, Mr. President, I’m sure you know the answer to that question. (Laughs.) It’s critical. It’s absolutely critical. And like I said—as you all know, we find ourselves looking at work and the future of work in a much different way than I imagine any of us thought possible at this pace that we’re moving. Effectively, it’s to say that we are training students for jobs that have not yet been invented.
So how we do that relative to their ability to analyze critically, write in a way that not only is clear but is compelling with respect to how they tell stories, be creative in the ways in which they want to engage in the world, and how they think about themselves as citizens. It couldn’t be more important.
And I’d say, particularly in the African American communities and other communities of color, it’s critical relative to the future of those communities. As I said—and you know this—that the contributions of HBCUs, just as one example from an economic development standpoint, are substantive, but they represent a proxy for much broader contribution from communities of color throughout this country.
And, we’ve seen some symbols just recently. If you look at the president’s Cabinet, the most diverse cabinet in the history of the United States. Obviously, I know many of you probably saw the hearings for soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson—and you saw the good and bad of that and what that might portend for our own civility in this country.
So I get up every day thinking about the fact that I have a lot of students whose life circumstances are changing because of Delaware State, and in so doing—at least in part—in so doing they have to be a part of the solution for really salvaging our democracy. So that is not just your new engineer or your new political scientist or your new accountant or banker, you have to be really apart of this process if we want to get it right.
So I appreciate the question, and I know you all know just how important it is not only in the American context, but around the globe.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m just going to take another question from Xavier University of Louisiana. We just heard from the president, but now from Pamela Waldron-Moore, who’s on the political science and international relations faculty.
Q: I’ve taken my role of internationalizing our students very seriously. Many of my department’s graduates have gone on to be Foreign Service Officers thanks to the Rangel and Pickering Fellowships made available to them. Today many have lost interest in international service seeing their service and diplomacy more as tokens than as valued for their intellectual capital. Fewer are interested in pursuing international diplomacy.
What encouragement can you give international faculty who recognize the importance of Black students representing the Black story?
ALLEN: Well, first of all, it’s a great question, and international development is not the only space where folks check a box on the number of students of color they might have in a program. And that’s problematic for all the reasons you outlined. Some of the things we’re doing, again with our Career Pathways programming, is suggesting that the institutions that we’re working with think of doing business with us in cohorts.
So it’s not just the one person that got the one opportunity, and then nothing else happens. But you build capacity for four or five, eight or ten students to get a similar situated opportunity, where they can lean on each other but also see faces that look like them and can be encouraging in that way. That’s one.
Second is the institutions themselves have to really look at their own pipelines for senior leadership, which is really challenging. So it’s not just that you can find the young Black or brown—the new young Black or brown talent out there, but does your organization look like the community you serve up and down that organization?
And that’s a little bit of—has been my struggle in trying to provide some advice and counsel to institutional leaders who are really serious about this business because it does take some bold leadership—looking in places you had not looked before, opening doors you might not have otherwise seen, and then recognizing that if you do that, your pipeline will grow as a result because those students will see the institution as serious about the issue.
So I would say don’t give up. I would say press harder.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
So next question from Dr. Todd Barry, professor at Hudson County Community College. How far north geographically do HBCUs go? And he hails from Connecticut.
ALLEN: (Laughs.) I’m only laughing because I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that question before. But I’m pretty North, actually. Most of the HBCUs are in the Southeast—not all of them, but most of them. The northern most, I guess, would be Cheyney University, the first one. There are two in Pennsylvania—Cheyney University and Lincoln. Lincoln is basically the second—though they will fight over that reputation. (Laughs.)
And they are about 20 minutes from each other, and then I am about an hour and ten (minutes) from them, so the northern most are really Cheyney and Lincoln.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Next? Any other questions?
I want to just say that next week we are hosting an in-person workshop in New York for college and university professors on the 28th and 29th of April, and we have several professors from HBCUs, which we’re really excited about.
But if you want to send any more our way—(laughs)—we would welcome it.
The other thing that we do every year is we host a Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. So it’s a collaboration that CFR does with the Global Access Pipeline and International Career Advancement Program, and the dates of that are May 20—let’s see, I think 24 and 25. And we have students come for that, and it’s great professional development. So hopefully if those of you on the call want your students to come—sorry, May 25 and 26—I was off by a day—if any of you want your students to come, we would love to have them. That takes place in D.C.
OK. So I’m just looking for any other questions?
The other thing I would love for you to talk a little bit—you mentioned your emphasis now on partnerships with government and getting more support from the federal government, but your background, you also had a corporate background.
FASKIANOS: So how have you in your position—how have HBCUs traditionally leveraged corporate and industry partnerships to build awareness and foster engagement? And what are you specifically doing given your background in that space, thirteen years that you’ve spent?
ALLEN: That’s actually—I shouldn’t say it this way, but that has not been as challenging. I think the corporate community, and recently in particular, they’ve showed up in a pretty thoughtful way on balance, on balance, d I don’t just mean in Delaware State, but I think at institutions across the country.
The one caveat to that is that fourth priority I mentioned, which is sometimes our smaller HBCUs are left out of that equation because folks don’t know the whole story—that there are 101 of them, that they cut across any number of disciplines, that they’re all doing really high-quality work. So being able to, as I said, build the profile of HBCUs is important.
With respect to what we’ve been able to do, we’ve had some significant really record-breaking fundraising over the last two years with the corporate community, and the idea has cut across a number of opportunities for us. One is that catalytic engine I just mentioned, without JPMorgan Chase or Bank of America we wouldn’t have forty other corporate partners who really want to be doing business with us in a much different way than they have in the past.
And then the emerging opportunities, there’s an organization called Propel [Center] out of Atlanta. If you don’t know that one, you should. It’s largely funded by a Southern Company and Apple, and it’s all a part of their racial, equity and inclusion efforts. And the idea is that you would create a virtual HBCU space for all HBCUs to have their students engage across a number of core disciplines.
For us, we’re spending a lot of time being at Beacon School for Agricultural Technology. For others, it’s the arts, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s a way for the HBCU students to connect with each other across these emerging disciplines and older disciplines; and also, for the companies to connect with these students as well and give them some practical experience relative to what’s happening in the new workspace, what the expectation is in those workspaces, what’s coming down the pike that many of us hadn’t seen before.
So it is a unique opportunity because more businesses are coming into that space. They’re finding out about HBCUs in a much different way, and that is creating obviously new opportunities for the students themselves, but, as I said, equally important for the companies who are serious about their business of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I’ll just note Ambassador Perry has a comment in the Q&A box about—as a co-drafter of the Rangel program and enabling students to enter the Pickering program, there are opportunities at the State Department that offer paid internships so that’s important to mention.
So now I’m going to go to Harold Schmitz, a senior scholar at the University of California Davis, who has raised his hand.
Q: Hi. Yeah, it’s Harold Schmitz. And thanks for this.
So I’m actually serving on a Blue Ribbon Panel at the National Academy of Sciences, and so we’re looking at it from a land grants perspective, you know, across 1862-1890 and 1990s—thinking specifically about food and agriculture research and how to enhance collaboration between the whole land-grant enterprise as opposed to the traditional sort of 1862s.
And so I’d really appreciate hearing your views on how would you see the land-grant enterprise from your perspective operating at a much higher and more collaborative sort of speed and nature than it currently is?
ALLEN: It’s an interesting question, Harold. I’m glad you asked it.
And a couple of observations. For one, I serve on the Council of 1890s, and for the room, there are about eighteen HBCUs that are 1890 land-grant institutions. And the idea is that we would spend and build deeper relationships with some of our 1860 PWI counterparts, but also among each other. I think the one thing that we as HBCUs, generally in 1890s in particular, can do a bit more clearly is find those unique opportunities in our own space and build capacity together.
I did mention Cheyney and Lincoln, and I saw that one of our colleagues corrected me. There absolutely are two great HBCUs in Ohio in Central and Wilberforce as well. But what—we do it from time to time, but what we don’t do often enough is find a way to really build collaborative, comprehensive research projects across our spaces, and proposals, and then present them as unique opportunities.
We usually—this is unfortunate, but it is a fact—go to the larger PWIs who have bigger capacity, more staff, more opportunity, and then when we do that, we become a sub to that project, which nothing wrong with being a sub but if you’re always a sub then you’re not going to get the kind of capacity to really build your own research protocol and framework. So we’re trying to do a better job of that as we move forward.
And then, as I said, because of the profile that we have received here recently, many more opportunities are coming our way, and what I mean by that is many more conversations. We’ll see if those conversations turn into substantive research dollars and the like, but we are having many more conversations with the right people around how we are able—how we can build support and capacity for our own research interests.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.
Any other questions? We’re coming to the end of our time, so.
There are a lot of, sort of, compliments in the Q&A box saying that this has been a very inspiring discussion. Thank you for your important work. And so just noting that.
In our final minutes, Tony, it would be great if you could talk about, what are—you mentioned the four areas that you’re going to focus on with President Biden, but what do you want to—what would you say to all of us to be doing in our communities to help with these efforts?
ALLEN: Well, just put HBCUs aside for a second. The story of the country is a story of struggle, right? And that’s certainly true in the African American context, but I think that’s true overall. And our ability to be a more thoughtful, civil society that really lifts all boats is the final—in my view, is the final frontier for the country and I think an opportunity for the world if we get it right.
So, oftentimes I say it’s a little less difficult for you to find diverse talent pipelines if your proximity is one that has diverse pipelines in it, which is to say, who do you go to church with, who do you eat dinner with? Who do your friends talk to? Those are the opportunities that I’ve had in my life kind of in the reverse, right, that has helped me—helped open doors for me, helped me get connected in the right ways, helped me open doors for other people.
But if we are living largely separate, distinct, homogenous lives based on our race, ethnicity, or gender, it’s going to be a much difficult and really more—you’d have to have a much more concerted effort to break the barriers that are largely artificial in our context. They really are largely artificial when you think about them. They have been cemented by, sort of, these systemic concerns, but they are largely artificial.
And this—having an opportunity like this in front of the Council I think is actually a pretty important part of the process because you’re going to expose yourself in a way that you might not have thought of. Quite frankly, it’s one of the reasons I said yes to doing this because I’m exposing myself to something I might not have—just might not have crossed my mind in my business. Now I know just why important it is.
So I would just have you think about proximity in your own lives, as I certainly do, and where you see the opportunity to make a real difference, do it and do it boldly.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you, and well—this has been really terrific opportunity for us, too, to have this exchange with you. Thank you for your leadership.
If nobody else has a question, we will close a couple minutes early because I know that everybody is busy, and we really appreciate you taking the time from your busy schedule to do this. So thank you for that.
And thanks to everybody for their comments. We can circulate links after this to the transcript of video as well as some of the resources that have been mentioned.
Again, I’m just going to say, if you have a professor that you want to send next week to our College and University Educators Workshop, reach out to me—(laughs)—and of course, we will be sending out information about our diversity conference because this is extremely important to us. We also have paid internships at CFR, which is extremely helpful and important as we look to diversify.
So thank you, again, Dr. Allen. Appreciate it.
ALLEN: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: And to all of you, please continue follow us at @CFR_academic on Twitter, visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com and ThinkGlobalHealth.org. I know this is a busy time for all of you with finals, graduation, and everything else. So good luck with the rest of the semester, and we look forward to your continued participation.
ALLEN: Take care.