THE BLOG
05/07/2014 03:53 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2014

On HBCUs, Republican Party Can't Serve Two Masters

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus toured Central State University last week, supporting the launch of a Young Republicans chapter on the historically Black campus in the critical swing state of Ohio. His appearance led a second-straight week of conservative-planted headlines involving HBCUs, with last week's story highlighting remarks made by a Morehouse College Republican, as delivered by alumnus former presidential candidate Herman Cain.

It is an ideal time for Republicans to get the word out on their party on HBCU campuses nationwide. Students should be looking for political alternatives to the Democratic administration that decimated HBCUs and derailed thousands of dreams with covert changes to the Pell grant and PLUS loan college financing programs, and forced the state of Maryland into a federal court defeat over irreparable harm to public HBCUs through program duplication - the first blue state so defeated in a long history of litigation against separate-but-equal system of public higher education.

RNC leadership, HBCU students and political observers know what time it is for the Grand Ole Party; for its survival, the party has to get younger, browner, and less incendiary on matters of race and class. But the RNC faces a unique challenge in the coming months of road trips and rap sessions with young Black voters.

How does the RNC expect to turn its victims into its advocates?

It is beyond disingenuous for Priebus, Cain or others to court HBCU students for a party with members who systemically attack HBCUs through cutting state appropriations and dismantling HBCU appeal and effectiveness. For every Young Republican Chapter the RNC can activate, there are thousands of HBCU students and alumni who cringe at the mention of party sentinels Bobby Jindal, Robert Bentley, Rick Scott, Rick Perry and Pat McCrory.

These names aren't the welcoming committee for the Republican party; they are the faces of denied opportunity, covert racist agendas, and the rich, white male privilege that created HBCUs and forced their evolution into schools designed to chip away at such privilege.

For students dialed in on the socio-political HBCU landscape, the dissonance of supporting a party which has marginalized public HBCUs to the brink of extinction has to be a difficult proposition. On the one hand, it is respectable for students to admire a party that values faith, fiscal conservatism and limits on the government's role in citizens' rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On the other, there must be a sickening feeling to know that education, the core of these inalienable rights, has to be obtained through assimilation into predominantly white institutions, and limited to the best and the brightest Black students and few others.

If Republicans want to make significant inroads with historically Black colleges and their students, their first order of business should be to reel in their governors and state legislators on their criminal neglect of HBCUs. Any real conversation must begin with ways to reverse underfunding, outdated facilities and dwindling financial aid to HBCU students.

And then, conversation has to become action. Fast. The RNC can't afford to hold dear to the ideals of racial animosity and accompanying isolation of resources held by many of its members, if it hopes to recruit new members of different hue and ethnic loyalty.

HBCUs and Black America at large could benefit from increasing number of Black folks in the conservative ranks. If a generation of activists can emerge from HBCUs and into the Republican party with the values of protecting and advancing Black communities and institutions, then we all should be open to the possibilities. But the party as currently constructed hasn't earned the privilege of our students' attention or consideration.

And until the RNC and its governors and state legislators prove a new philosophy and respect for Black colleges and Black people, they should continue to be at the periphery of our interest and our vote.

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