Adam Harris Explores the Persistent Challenges Black Students Face in Higher EducationBy Joy Liwanag
In a powerful address at Alabama State University's Civil Rights Symposium, Adam Harris, an award-winning staff writer with the Atlantic, delved into the deeply rooted systemic issues plaguing America's higher education system, particularly in its treatment of Black students.
Harris, echoing sentiments from his book "The State Must Provide," asserted that the nation's colleges and universities have never provided equal opportunities for Black individuals to succeed. His narrative unmasked the historical disparities and chronic underfunding faced by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), shedding light on the urgent need for reform.
The Ongoing Legacy of Inequality
During his talk on "Exploring Inequality in Higher Education," Harris underscored the stark reality that the foundation of the American higher education system was not built on principles of equality or accessibility. Instead, it prioritized the education of white students, relegating Black students to an afterthought. Harris passionately detailed the long-standing history of imbalanced support for institutions enrolling high numbers of Black students and emphasized the unique legacy of HBCUs in the face of adversity.
Harris elucidated the underfunding predicament faced by HBCUs, attributing it to decades-long political and systemic obstacles erected against equitable education. He traced the origins back to Civil War-era legislation designed to bring agricultural education to the masses, leading to the creation of HBCUs as spaces where Black students found refuge when other educational institutions rejected them.
Inequities in Detail: Funding and Facilities
The discussion navigated through the intricacies of funding inequities, exposing the myriad issues HBCUs grapple with due to financial disparities. Harris pinpointed problems like poor campus housing conditions and inadequate facilities as common challenges rooted in a lack of available funds. As he unraveled these details, it became evident that the obstacles faced by HBCUs extended beyond monetary concerns, impacting the overall educational experience for Black students.
Harris emphasized the pivotal role HBCUs play in the lives of African Americans, serving as institutions founded post-Civil War to educate Black students who were systematically excluded from mainstream higher education. He called for the celebration of HBCUs, like Alabama State University, recognizing their historical significance and their ongoing commitment to producing history-makers.
A Historical Fight for Fairness: The Knight v. State of Alabama Case
Dr. John F. Knight, Jr., a retired administrator for ASU, made a significant appearance, sharing insights into his instrumental role in the landmark case, Knight v. State of Alabama. This lawsuit, spanning 25 years, sought remedies for desegregation in Alabama's colleges and universities, resulting in substantial financial awards for ASU and Alabama A&M University. Dr. Knight's dedication to fighting for fairness in higher education stands as a testament to the enduring struggle against systemic inequities.
As the symposium concluded with remarks from ASU President, Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr., the urgent call for change echoed in the air. Harris's exploration of the persistent challenges facing Black students in higher education is not just a revelation of historical injustices but a rallying cry for excellence and equity. Students are urged to understand that they walk into classrooms where history is made, and the fight for a truly inclusive and equal education continues. It is a collective responsibility to confront these ingrained inequities, dismantling barriers and ensuring that higher education truly becomes a realm of equal opportunity for all.