Historically Black Colleges, Historically Safe Spaces

Since the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, this country has seen mass protests in the streets and on college campuses nationwide. After months of campaigning on a platform of law and order, xenophobia, and Islamophobia, he has followed through with executive actions that further uphold his ideologies. The most protested executive action is titled “Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” and it blatantly attacks Muslim immigrants and Latinx people. What is the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in this political climate?

When Black people in America were denied access to higher education, HBCUs granted them that opportunity. HBCU’s were created out of the necessity for a place marginalized people could go to equip themselves with the tools to thrive and survive while serving their surrounding communities. Currently, HBCUs serve the same purpose of giving opportunities to Black and Brown people, the most marginalized in the U.S. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the largest HBCU in the country, serves 83.2% Black students and 12% non-Black students of color.

“HBCUs are an integral part of the higher education mosaic in the United States. They provide opportunities to some Americans who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend an institution of higher education.” – U.S Rep. Bradley Byrne

The largest HBCU in the country, North Carolina A&T, has acted as a place of protection and refuge in its past during the Dudley/A&T Uprising of May 1969. Students from James B. Dudley High School ran to North Carolina A&T looking for protection from the militant KKK in Greensboro, NC after students peacefully protested an unfair anti-black Student Government Association election. Claude Barnes was denied the role of student body president because his views aligned with the Black Panther Party even though he was the preferred candidate by Dudley students. North Carolina A&T Vietnam veterans protected both Dudley students and students on their campus from the vigilante attacks when the police refused to protect them. The dangers we face today may look different but the need for sanctuary still exists.

Trump’s Anti-Immigrant executive order will call on local police to act as agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which will further militarize and embolden the police. Imagine seeing your peers on campus being snatched and disappeared while you’re walking to class. Not only will this happen on your campus, but in the communities in which HBCUs have historically protected. This is why sanctuary is necessary in this political climate.

Black people are Muslim and Black people are undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, “Sanctuary” is generally portrayed as the protection of undocumented Latinx and Hispanic people and more recently the protection of fair skinned Muslim people. That erases Black Muslim people and the 400,000 undocumented Black immigrants currently living in the United States facing deportation, and the present day attack on Black people due to excessive police violence. The word “sanctuary” regarding cities and campuses must have a more inclusive and expansive definition. Black people are still under attack in America and need protection on “sanctuary” campuses just as other marginalized people do. Declaring our campuses sanctuary could limit access of ICE and the police for students on campus. If HBCUs are going to center and protect blackness, then they must be inclusive of all Black identities.

HBCUs belong to the communities they serve, communities that should also have the right to designate their campuses as sanctuaries. HBCU students, alumni, and administrations have a choice to make; either we are going to collectively be complicit in the demonization, violence, and suppression of undocumented immigrants, Muslims and Black people, or we are going to stand up in the face of racism and elitism to protect marginalized people in this country, as we should.

Delaney Vandergrift is a Black student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and co-leader of MHJ Greensboro chapter.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, Kevin Coles

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