THE BLOG
11/06/2013 05:03 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Racism Drives Future of Maryland HBCUs

If more of Maryland's most attractive degree programs were offered by its historically Black colleges, would a majority of Maryland students still avoid enrolling at HBCUs? This is one of a handful of questions that will fuel ongoing debate about equitable support and development of Black colleges in Maryland, all centering around complex conversations about racism, racist higher ed policy, and how resources can indeed turn back the hands of time.

Maryland, better than most states in the south, mastered for generations a crafty game of race-based negligence with its higher education policy for Black colleges. Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and Maryland Eastern Shore, historically underfunded but not lacking for a handful of unique programs over the last 40 years, once all had white enrollment that typically accompanies unique programs at schools with an affordable tuition price point.

Today, the Baltimore metropolitan region boasts six schools with undergraduate and graduate opportunities, while enrollment at HBCUs has struggled for stabilization over the same period. The Maryland Black colleges still boast some unique and timely degree offerings, but house them in outdated facilities with too few faculty to teach a dwindling student population.

In the weeks since a federal judge ruled that Maryland unlawfully and purposefully harmed its public historically Black institutions by duplicating their programs at public traditionally white institutions, a diverse range of perspectives has emerged about its possible outcomes. Professors and supporters at the schools which benefited the most from the duplication argue taking programs from white schools will force Black and white students to other PWIs, and likely out of state to avoid forced enrollment at HBCUs.

Current and former Black civil servants call for the mediation process, which began last week, to take its due and just course. Current Maryland Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown appealed for a solution that brings equitable opportunity for all students in the state.

Former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who was in power when a program duplicating Morgan's MBA program spurred what would eventually amount to the lawsuit, says that despite his best efforts, Maryland's Black colleges have been woefully maligned.

The message underscoring these realities and reactions is that Maryland, its students and those who shape its higher ed destiny, are too racist to reverse one of the nation's greatest and most contemporary cultural injustices. We are expected to believe that white students will refuse to learn alongside Black students from Black professors in Black neighborhoods. Black students have integrated Maryland's white institutions without apocalyptic results for more than 70 years, despite Maryland maintaining one of the nation's worst records of diversity and integration in its secondary public school systems for years.

We are expected to believe that Black students, who typically do not choose HBCUs because the schools do not have the program they want or do not offer scholarships comparable to those awarded by white colleges, will be so fearful of HBCU stereotypes that they will incur greater debt going to school out-of-state than to attend a Maryland Black college.

More dangerously, we all are expected to believe that the status quo of inequity should remain acceptable, because reversing it would require too much financial and social cost. Costs were not a factor when it came to the proliferation of degrees in the state at the harm of Black colleges, or in the higher tuition costs for Black students who attended white schools for the promise of 'better' education.

And they shouldn't be a factor now.

Maryland, which has historically been led by democratic legislators and whose Black homegrown heroes are the figures of emancipation and freedom, has hidden the true measure of is character for long enough. Maryland is one of the nation's most racist states when it comes to educational opportunity for its Black and minority populations, and a court recognizing this fact has legally forced Maryland to make a choice on its own cultural destiny.

Will Maryland continue to hold fast to its tragic work of racial segregation, or will it recognize the blemish it has brought to the nation's post-Civil Rights work and seek to create opportunity for all of its citizens by building its historically Black colleges? New buildings and empty promises are not enough. It is time to exorcise the ghosts of racist separatism once and for all.