Our new network of HBCU fellows.

Hi there! Welcome to HBCU Spotlight, a new monthly newsletter that explores issues facing historically Black colleges and universities and follows the work of our HBCU Student Journalism Network.

HBCU Spotlight
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A monthly newsletter that explores issues facing historically Black colleges and universities and follows the work of our HBCU Student Journalism Network. By Naomi Harris.

My name is Naomi Harris and I cover race and equity in higher education.

You might know my work from The Intersection. You might be here because you attended the event, Telling The Full Story of HBCUs (if you missed it — here’s the recording). Or, maybe you’ve been following the work of our inaugural fellows.

I, along with the rest of our team, hope to bring more journalistic attention to this important sector. Be sure to sign up to keep in touch.

Why the network matters

We launched the network this year in an effort to increase coverage of these important institutions while training student journalists. Open Campus created the network in partnership with Jarrett Carter Sr., a veteran journalist and the founder of HBCU Digest.

Our fellows will cover all aspects of HBCUs — not just the institutions they attend. And, we’re looking to pursue thoughtful, deeply reported stories that don’t just rehash existing narratives. Despite the importance of these institutions, there are few journalists dedicated to covering how well they are fulfilling their missions. There are lots of stories to explore.

“I look at homecoming and I think tourism impact. I look at a concert and a step show and I think revenue. I think alumni giving,” Carter said at our HBCU event last month.

The network is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the Scripps Howard Fund. Learn more in this writeup from NiemanLab.

Photo Credit: Alcorn State University

What do people misunderstand about HBCUs?

A lot, it turns out. Our fellows dug into those misconceptions in their first story for the network.

Here’s what students like Jayla Bryant, of Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., had to say:

“They think that we’re all the same, and we fit in one box, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, we do have fun, and we do celebrate our culture. We represent Black excellence. Think about the history and meaning behind HBCUs: Black people were not allowed in their colleges and we took that power back.”

The story was co-published with Capital B, a Black-led nonprofit local and national organization reporting for Black communities across the country.

Building a network

The fellowship also offers students professional development opportunities. Last week, the fellows got tips for applying to jobs, building relationships, and writing engaging cover letters from Priska Neely and Sonali Kohli. Priska is the managing editor of the Gulf States Newsroom. Sonali is a senior recruiter at URL Media.

We’ll be holding more skills-building workshops for our fellows over the course of the spring. Interested in coaching our fellows? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at hbcu@opencampusmedia.org.

What the fellows are up to

Fellows are working on a range of stories at the moment — including reporting on the water issues at Jackson State University and enrollment trends across the country. I’ll highlight their work in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile here are two stories fellows reported for their student newspapers:

For the Howard University Hilltop, Jasper Smith highlights how some students are responding to rising tuition costs: GoFundMe campaign.

Why Some Howard Students Are Turning to GoFundMe to Help Pay Tuition Balances
Kayla Grant cried tears of joy as a bold “congratulations” email confirmed her acceptance to her number one school, Howard University. For Grant, Howard was the university she truly saw herself at, and she couldn’t wait to be a Bison.


For the Morehouse College Maroon Tiger, fellow Auzzy Byrdsell reports on frustrations among art majors:

The Hidden Struggle of SpelHouse Art Majors
Current Spelhouse students do not feel respected or supported by the administrations or student body for what they create.

Interested in becoming a fellow?

Applications are open for our next set of fellows. Fellows will start in September. The deadline is June 1. Apply here.

Thanks for reading!

I’d like to hear from you. Right now, I’m reporting on how the COVID pandemic shifted the educational paths of Black and Latino men who graduated from high school last spring. Know anyone I should talk to? Let me know!

Or, share your stories, tips or perspectives by sending me an email. Reach out to me at naomi@opencampusmedia.org.

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Open Campus national reporter covering the intersection of race and higher education.