Hi there! Welcome to The 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. My name is Naomi Harris and I report on race and equity in higher education.

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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.

We paired up our HBCU fellow, Alivia Welch who goes to Jackson State, with Molly Minta at Mississippi Today to look at the ongoing water problems at the university. Alivia spoke to students on campus about how it has affected their college experience, and Molly leaned on legislative sources to explain the funding options that Jackson State officials are hoping for.

It’s an important story — the HBCU has dealt with water problems for years. And, centering student voices gives readers a chance to truly understand what it is like for those living on campus.

Matthew Adams, a junior at Jackson State, told Alivia that inconsistent access to clean water has left him feeling alone.

“When you’re not able to shower because we’re without water or the showers aren’t getting warm, you don’t feel clean and you stink. I truly feel isolated. My dorm only has one working washing machine, so it’s hard to even get clean clothes,” he said.

Reporting like this not only connects our fellows to professional journalists — the collaboration elevates the coverage. Alivia and Molly met up several times to write and edit the story together. It was co-published in Open Campus and Mississippi Today. Check out the story.

More from Jackson State: Alivia also contributed to Molly’s coverage of the departure of Jackson State’s president, Thomas Hudson. Hudson resigned earlier this month after being placed on administrative leave. He is the third straight president to resign from Jackson State, and Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees have yet to account for what went wrong.

Returning to finish degrees

HBCUs do a good job of welcoming students whose paths through college haven’t been linear, experts said. (Photo: Courtesy of Coppin State University)

Recent data show that women of color with some college but no degree are returning to the classroom in high numbers. HBCUs play a particular role in welcoming back Black women like Doris Mackins, who returned to Coppin State decades after she first started there.

Jasper Smith, our fellow from Howard University, wrote the story, which we co-published with Capital B. We asked Jasper a few questions about her experience reporting the piece. She said Doris’s story of returning to Coppin State will always stay with her. She “wasn’t obtaining her degree to advance her career like most people, but simply because she wanted to contribute to the growing number of Black women with college degrees,” Jasper said.

And, as a Black woman attending an HBCU, the story holds personal significance for Jasper. It was inspiring to hear from other Black women about their challenges in pursuing, leaving, and returning to higher education, she said.

“There have been times I have heard offensive sayings such as ‘a degree won’t keep you warm at night’ or ‘you’re in school to get your Mrs. degree’ in response to my higher education aspirations,” Jasper said. “It was important to me to share with readers that despite various reasons to give up on obtaining a degree, more Black women nationwide are overcoming these obstacles and finishing their education.”

More work from our fellows

Forthcoming stories from our fellows focus on the declining numbers of Black men attending HBCUs and what Black families should consider before taking out Parent PLUS loans. Stay tuned.

Our fellows are also hard at work on projects for their student newspapers and classes. Skylar Stephens, who attends Xavier University, completed her community reporting fellowship at Lede New Orleans, a journalism training nonprofit. She talked to people in the city about mental healthcare and wellness. She combined her reporting with photography and audio as part of an interactive storytelling exhibit.

In other news:

  • As Black student enrollment has declined over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of people have lost out on the potential for the higher salaries that can come with a bachelor’s degree. A new study calculated that lost income to be more than $2.9 billion annually. But in contrast, if working Black adults earn a degree then earnings would become $222 billion. A coalition of higher education leaders, policymakers and researchers offered two key recommendations: centering Black learners in the classroom, and making college actually affordable. Here’s the full report.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken aim at diversity, equity, and inclusion programming at the state’s colleges. For Florida A&M University, an HBCU, this poses a problem, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Students worry the effort could harm their education and also weaken the state’s only public HBCU.
  • Amber Land at Texas Southern wrote for the student-run media outlet about the history of the African Queen Mother statue on campus, and connected it to generational tales of culture and resiliency.

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. 

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

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