Universities have always had political impact and influence; conversely, politics heavily influence universities.
Most, if not all, schools receive monetary donations, but the difference between public and private colleges is that public colleges are subsidized by the government—which many of us already know. (Public and private high schools work the same way.) It is this subsidization that serves as the root of most decisions made by schools as far as the government goes. In relation to the rest of the world, this is how politics typically work: whoever is donating tends to have a say.
But where things get skewed is in the fact that, while this relationship can be mutual, what one party wants is not necessarily what the other wants. What makes this worse is that a group of maybe hundreds of administrators and board members have to make decisions for the betterment of the thousands of people a single school serves.
Last semester, I took a political science class. The textbook and the teacher both mentioned how political leaders depend on universities and colleges when it comes to elections. So, many leaders would give schools large donations, or allow that political leader’s cause to be known on campus. University students are very important in America and the rest of the democratic world. If you did not have a reason to feel important before, this is a really good one: university students pose a threat to many prospective politicians because we have the power to make or break elections. University students are unique in that we don’t necessarily answer to anyone or owe anyone anything. We are young, but we are given adult responsibilities. To make sense of it in abstract terms, these years are the years in which we become who we are and we are the future.
So, in many ways, a university tends to model the government in how it operates. Universities at large are set up like our government: we have a president, that president has a board (like a cabinet), an administration (like the House and Senate), and then the larger student body that pays for schooling (like how adults pay taxes) for housing, food, and education in return. The relationships can be very similar. This parallel is particularly clear in how schools respond to controversy. In the past few years, shit really has been hitting the fan—or, rather, the fan is blowing the cover of many people and many groups. Many problems have resurfaced or exposed themselves. We are just now seeing key figures being held accountable for their wrong deeds (for years, sexual assault cases were swept under the rug). Responses to cases involving racial discrimination have not really been handled either.
I attended the Congressional Black Caucus and helped cover a panel discussion about race crimes on campus. Hearing prominent student figures discuss racial crimes across various colleges made it obvious that we have to deal with these things; while they may be garnering national attention occasionally, no real, long-lasting changes are being made.
HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) are especially affected by the political climate. The very history of HBCUs shows that, as many of them were created due to America’s social and political climate. I write this as I sit under the alma mater of Howard University, written on Starbucks’ wall. “Ever bold to battle wrong,” reads one of the lines. HBCUs (specifically Howard, being that it is so close to the White House) have always carried the duty of being places where black people and other people of color could receive an education in spaces that feels open and safe for their students. But on the other hand, HBCUs serve as places where students feel comfortable enough to protest every and any discrimination against a human’s rights.
This past semester, the effect of today’s political climate was incredibly distinct across campus. The only way I could describe the energy is by comparing it to the feeling a farmer gets when a pest comes into his or her crops and threatens the livelihood of that vegetation. Granted, no one is going anywhere and no one is being defeated.
To some, college is just another passing point—though it remains significant, other things become more significant. Whether a black person goes to an HBCU or PWI (predominantly white institution) does not ultimately matter, but HBCUs continue to have impact and meaning in the black community. For example, Howard University serves as many local people’s main hospital, church, school, and recreational area. Where there is community, there is home. These places form a community and set the tone for the area.
As a result of their history, HBCUs continue to be main figures leading the fight for civil and human rights. On an individual level, they mean even more—they’re a part of our legacy.