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HBCUs Will Benefit From America's Post-Racial Pushback

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With every instance of voter disenfranchisement, every study published on shrinking leadership opportunities for minorities across industries, and every race-baiting rant from berserkers on the conservative right, the mirage of abandoning racial identity becomes harder to believe and maintain.

As post-racial talk turns towards the utility of race-based admissions in higher education, conversation is bubbling up about the post-racial movement and its impact on historically black colleges. Should HBCUs become more diverse? Should they temper curriculum and campus culture to become more attractive to other ethnic groups beyond African-Americans? Are HBCU missions still valid in today's world?

Historically, the peculiar question on diversity has only piqued action at predominantly white institutions when black and minority students consistently and publicly pushed the issue. In that sense, there is something honorable about HBCU leadership projecting ahead for the movement of diversity and inclusiveness being a sticking point for many types of students, black included, seeking HBCU admission.

But most PWIs have only narrowly embraced diversity as an economic and political asset, and black students have suffered because of the PWI commitment to the concept of diversity instead of the humanity of it. HBCUs now have a chance to model for America the ideal execution of diversity and inclusion; the abandoning of racial harmony in favor of racial appreciation taught within the context and through the perspective of America's racial minorities.

HBCUs should champion racial diversity, but should reject wholly the concept of doing so for the sake of karmic law or the Golden Rule. This approach has not worked at predominantly white colleges, and the flawed concept of racial equity without context always rears its head in racially-motivated student violence and intimidation, along with issues around minority retention and town-gown relations with black and minority communities around PWIs.

"The {Post-Racial Movement} will help," says Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough. "If affirmative action is killed, it will help a lot of African-Americans realize that they have not been wholly accepted in America."

Since somebody or something has to shape a new normal when dreams of equity and inclusion lead to harrowing realities of ignorance and isolation, HBCUs can be the stop gap. This concept plays out annually in college sports -- when African-American blue chip athletes are faced with less-than-ideal playing time or relationships with coaches, the HBCU is always willing and ready to receive their transfer.

HBCUs don't have a legacy of racial discrimination in their admission processes, and in comparison to racial acrimony on PWI campuses, white students and faculty at HBCUs are mostly made to feel genuinely welcome and appreciated. HBCU presidents nationwide aren't just embracing diversity, but welcome its arrival from those seeking its opportunity, and those seeking its refuge.

"The post-racial push is an illusion," says Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell. "But if there is one, it has forced the HBCU mission to evolve."

In 2011, Paul Quinn was featured in the Wall Street Journal for its diversity-infused approach to recruiting and retention.

"America is not post-racial," says Southern University System President Ron Mason. "It is neo-racial. Jefferson's Wolf is as vicious as ever. This is why the Five-Fifths Agenda for America is so important."

Alcorn State University, has taken the extra step in cultivating diversity within an HBCU perspective. Alcorn houses an Office of Educational Equity and Inclusion, which has gained national recognition for its efforts. President M. Christopher Brown III says that diversity does not have to come at the sacrifice of the HBCU mission or tradition.

"Change and time are not threats -- they are opportunities. Our mission is immutable. We modify our delivery of service to meet the needs of our changing constituents. I am 100 percent committed to our intellectual and cultural traditions."

The more that America wants to embrace the optimism of a post-racial society, the more its reality is painted by racialized social pessimism. But the gloomier the outlook on America realizing its potential as a nation of altruistic tolerance, the more that HBCUs stand out as the only architects qualified to truly build the concept.