Main Navigation

Day of Collective Action highlights HBCU partnerships

Strengthening the University of Utah’s partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was top of mind during this year’s Day of Collective Action March 27.

“HBCU’s are institutions of strength, incredible resources, and talent,” keynote speaker Marybeth Gasman said. “If you’re going to partner with HBCUs, know that there needs to be something in it for them as well. It needs to be equitable, and you need to think ahead about how you’re going to manage that partnership and how you’re going to sustain it for the long-term, ensuring that everyone involved is treated well.”

The University of Utah’s third annual Day of Collective Action (DoCA) focused on partnerships with Historically White Institutions (HWIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

In a time when colleges and universities are looking for ways to better serve students, creating partnerships between higher education institutions can serve as a bridge to mutually beneficial collaborations that could result in huge educational opportunities for students, faculty, staff and leadership, university leaders said.

The 2024 DoCA event was designed to offer the U’s campus collective a chance to learn, reflect and find ways that each of us can work to build bridges of understanding that assist in developing a feeling of belonging for everyone in the U community. Launched in 2022, the DoCA is a Presidential initiative created by the Presidential Commission on Equity and Belonging.

This year’s keynote speaker, Gasman, is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education and the associate dean for research in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. She is also a distinguished professor who serves as executive director of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity & Justice as well as executive director of the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Marybeth Gasman

Gasman said to develop successful long-term collaborations, HWI’s need to educate their campus communities on the legacy of HBCU’s and the significant role they have played over many decades in providing post-secondary learning opportunities to the nation’s Black diaspora.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some of the leadership who might be working on a partnership program to go visit some HBCUs,” she said. “Put together like a tour where you visit and learn firsthand about the excellence happening at HBCU’s.”

In addition to the keynote address, the DoCA program included panel discussions on health disparities among minorities and social determinants of health; along with the impact of Historically Black Colleges & Universities and Tribal Colleges & Universities (TCUs) in America.

In the “Impact of HBCUs and Tribal Colleges and Universities” panel, four proud graduates of these institutions talked about the benefits they give to students, as well as the problems they face. They described these schools as places that “build people” and allow them to embrace their cultural and racial identities. However, they also acknowledged that most HBCUs and TCUs are drastically underfunded even though they are given special designations by the federal government.

“Education has a debt to pay,” said Jarrel Johnson, U of U assistant professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. “I’m going to quote Beyonce to say, ‘Give me my check or pay me in equity.’”

Meanwhile, during a question-and-answer period, Gasman, who along with Levon T. Esters co-authored “HBCU: The Power of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” told the audience to challenge misguided notions propagated by uninformed individuals who decry HBCU’s as substandard to majority White institutions.

“Anytime someone talks about HBCUs in an inferior way, you need to say something. You need to say like I do when people say it, ‘How do you know that?’” she said. She said some people tend to use discriminatory language when talking about Black institutions, which is unfair and should not be tolerated.

She also challenged HWI leaders to make good-faith efforts in recruiting and attracting faculty and staff of color, which also creates an enhanced learning environment for all students and community members.

When “I hear, ‘We can’t find any people of color. I’m like, ‘Can you tell me where you look and how you know that?’” she explained. “They can never come up with the answer. If you come up with an answer, let me hear it. But I think challenging those kinds of blanket statements, we all have to do that, and White folks have to do it too.”