Monday, January 08, 2018

Lacking God's Time

Jelani Cobb has a great profile of Wayne A. I. Frederick, the President of Howard University, and the difficult dynamic even elite HBCUs face as they seek to navigate Trump-dominated political waters.

Cobb does a great job giving historical context to an ongoing dilemma HBCU leaders often face between directly challenging White supremacist power structures in America versus accommodating White leaders who control desperately-needed resources and access. It grates -- obviously it grates -- for students on these campuses to see their President, say, appear in a photo-op with President Trump, or to watch as Betsy DeVos uses their campus as a backdrop to prattle on about "school choice", or (in a particularly extreme example) to hear that Lee "Willie Horton" Atwater may join the university's  board. Such moves are, to say the least, way out of step with the prevailing sentiment of the campus community.

On the other hand, "Pragmatic" leaders often consider the putative conciliation to be its own form of power. What could be more revolutionary than extracting money and support from inside the belly of the beast?  Yes, it might be ideal to not have to make such compromises. But, Cobb quotes Frederick as saying: "People think we’re doing God’s work, on God’s time, with God’s money. The problem is, we don’t have access to the latter two."

The paradox of being an HBCU leadership position is that "pragmatists are in the business of producing new generations of fierce idealists." It's a difficult issue, without clear answers. But Cobb's piece is well worth a read to begin unpacking it, at the very least.

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