Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were born out of necessity and have helped Black students achieve greatness and contribute to innovation worldwide.
HBCUs have positive social and economic impacts for their communities. They generate a total of $14.8 billion for their local and regional economies and create over 134,000 jobs for their communities, according to the United Negro College Fund’s statistics on HBCUs. However, HBCUs need support from their communities.
Dr. Glenda Glover, the president of Tennessee State University and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the oldest Black sorority in the country, has made efforts to support the sustainability of HBCUs. Dr. Glover spoke on the issue at this year’s White House Initiative on HBCUs National HBCU Week Conference on Sept. 8.
As part of Dr. Glover’s national initiatives, she led the historical sorority in raising $1 million in a single day for the second year in a row on their HBCU Impact Day.
DiversityInc’s Olivia Riggio spoke with Dr. Glover on her work as president of both Tennessee State and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. to work to garner support for HBCUs.
Content has been edited for length and clarity.
Olivia Riggio: Given the challenges HBCUs face today and have faced throughout history, how do you plan to work around them to ensure the sustainability of HBCUs?
Dr. Glenda Glover: I think we have many of the same problems [we] had in the past, to a greater magnitude now because of the society in which we live. But our main problem that we face today, of course, is with funding. Funding has been a problem for years … I think one of the greatest problems we have is the lack of a solid advocacy base. We need more advocates for HBCUs. That strong advocacy base will help HBCUs to get into the funding arena. I’ve been in various settings where the advocates … are pushing their schools. They can work with legislatures about their schools. They can work with various corporations about their institutions. And HBCUs lack that advocacy base.
We want to be our own advocates … We are helping ourselves. Sustainability is our issue. We have to make sure we sustain our HBCUs … We know funding represents sustainability. Endowments represent sustainability … That makes it even more important for us to have a drive to raise money to assist HBCUs … I understand the needs of HBCUs: the financial needs, the operating needs, and so we have very few problems that money can’t solve.
OR: Given what you said about lack of advocacy for HBCUs, what do you think is at the root of that?
GG: I think we’re focused a lot on the funding issues and not what underlies that … It’s about establishing partnership. It’s about being introduced to various leaders in companies that can partner with us, with HBCUs. It’s about the collaborative areas. And then having access to the right leaders. Having access to the leadership of corporations, the leadership at the Capital. So, I think that’s a hurdle that we must cross. So, the economics, advocacy funding is one circle, one cycle … Every HBCU doesn’t have the type of networking that others have. That’s what’s so important. To have that networking capacity, that networking capability to get to ensure that we can have building a strong advocacy base.
OR: What do you think causes the apathy and the lack of advocacy toward HBCUs?
GG: I think it’s the lack of access to the leadership of organizations that can partner with HBCUs. Many times we know our college graduates who are there, we know the second level up, but seldom do we have access to the CEO, seldom do we have access to the people in the C-suite. So that’s where we are now because African Americans have traditionally not been a part of the C-suite or the corporate board … We’re slowly piercing that veil, but we still have quite a ways to go.
OR: Speaking more specifically of Tennessee State University, your alma mater and the institution you are president of, how do you see White House policies affecting your institution and others like it?
GG: There have been some policies that have been detrimental to HBCUs. There were some that helped HBCUs. The White House is not so much the issue with HBCUs. Because we go around the White House, in a matter of speaking, but if we make partnerships with the various agencies … We have a great partnership with agriculture … USDA is one of our primary partners … Congress has a budget, so we’re partners with the Congressional Black Caucus … The FUTURE Act is so absolutely important for HBCUs to continue to receive over $250 million in government funding to assist HBCUs, to improve our academic quality, to enhance those programs that are high-impact areas like STEM and healthcare. That is so vital to HBCUs. So, it’s not so much the White House policies. It’s the policies at the federal level. So, we’re working hard. We’re very thankful to Congress that Congress passed the FUTURE Act. So now, they’ll be in the Senate. And those who are holding up — even my own state — it’s being held up by one of my own state senators, but we have to make sure that we get to those individuals who are not in favor of advancing HBCUs, and we have to do it in spite of them.
OR: How do you see your work with Alpha Kappa Alpha and Tennessee State affecting change in spite of systemic failures to effectively support them?
GG: We just have to help ourselves. That’s why the $1 million effort the other day was so important. We have to make sure sustainability is key. And when you set out to raise $1 million in one day to assist HBCUs, that’s phenomenal … The state funds have dwindled, so you’re on your own when it comes to sustainability. So that’s where the main problem is. We have developed private partners, Silicon Valley and other partners, to make sure that our schools are sustained for years to come.
OR: What would you say are your main goals in gaining support for HBCUs and for your organization?
GG: The primary goal is to make sure that we continue to serve the community and be visible, make the right connections with the right partners, develop the right partnerships with the right collaboration to make sure that we’re there. And this is for TSU and AKA, because I’ve learned the two go hand-in-hand. I’ve found partnerships with Alpha Kappa Alpha that were extended to Tennessee State University … I understand when you wear both hats you have to really listen carefully to see how can TSU benefit.
OR: Asking a broader question, for those who don’t know, what is the significance of HBCUs for the Black community in the U.S.
GG: Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been our foundation, if you look at what are the contributions that have been made by HBCUs around the world. I’ll start by just saying the primary reason for attending an HBCU is to get a good education … Other things just go along with it. You have others that look like you; there’s camaraderie, there are so many other reasons to go, but the primary reason, the way we recruit students [is if] you want to go to an HBCU, you want to get a quality education. And that’s what an HBCU offers students … This is the backbone of who we are. Almost every family, you’re going to find somebody who went to an HBCU, whether it’s your cousin, your brother, your sister, your mother. You’ve attended HBCUs, you went to homecoming there, you went to some kind of recruitment fair there … There’s a connection to HBCUs in every family.
OR: A Washington Post article found women of color are entering the workforce at record rates. How does Alpha Kappa Alpha work to prepare women of color to thrive in their careers?
GG: Alpha Kappa Alpha just had a leadership conference here in Nashville where we engaged in membership professionally. We showed them how to do résumés, we talked to the undergraduates at their roundup. We have undergraduate leadership development. They have leadership fellows. So we have a lot of leadership opportunities and professional opportunities to help Alpha Kappa Alpha women. And we’re about to embark upon now another fellows, the educational fellows to show how to move up in organizations. We started AKA University. We have an umbrella for which we take classes for self-betterment. A lot of avenues to which the membership, predominantly women of color, can thrive in their careers. It’s a new initiative we’re introducing to help the sisterhood get to the C-suite. Get to the corporate board. You and I both know that getting on a corporate board is, you have to be invited … We’re trying to get our membership and get other women prepared to move to the next level of your career. So that’s what professional development is all about … You want to take the sisterhood while we’re there, other women of color, and show them how to advance in this corporate maze.
OR: I would assume, then, that having women of color in leadership positions helps aid the systemic problem of HBCUs not getting enough funding from corporate America or from politicians.
GG: True. We have to have connections and networks to assist others, to assist women in moving up, and assist African Americans in general … Many people can get in the door. But it’s staying there, making sure you have a sponsor as well as a mentor …
OR: What other work are you doing on behalf of the sorority to create sustainability for HBCUs through membership.
GG: First, we started with trying to raise $1 million in one day, but there are program initiatives we put forward. We’ve advanced educational program initiatives that we’ve advanced. There’s also the wellness. Taking care of yourself. We have a breast cancer initiative … We brought forth a mobile breast cancer unit with mammograms, on the spot screenings. Because we know that African Americans die at a faster rate from not having proper access to healthcare. Then we have our economic benefits. All of this is about creating sustainability. We have personal financial planning, supporting Black businesses … And then we have the global impact to make sure the Alpha Kappa Alpha brand is worldwide and maintained worldwide.