Hi there! Welcome to The HBCU Spotlight, a 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.

As readers of this newsletter know, historically Black colleges and universities really matter. HBCUs educate the majority of the country’s Black engineers, lawyers and judges, and half of the country’s Black teachers. But when we looked at enrollment data, another key statistic emerged: Just 1 in 3 undergraduates at many HBCUs are men.

And, this is true even at some HBCUs where overall enrollment numbers have risen — such as Howard University.

I paired up with Skylar Stephens, our fellow at Xavier University of Louisiana, to tell this story. Skylar sees the trend firsthand on campus and in classes — Xavier is among the HBCUs where men are one-third of undergraduates. We sought to answer two key questions: Why is this happening? And, what is the impact on culture and campuses if the trend continues?

Calvin Hall, who leads the mass communications department at N.C. Central, summed it up well. Black men should be seen as successful “beyond the usual tropes like athletics or music,” he told me.

“It adds a different voice, a different perspective, and it helps us value everybody. If one group is not seen, it makes it easier for people to discount and to disregard and set aside,” he said.

The Washington Post co-published our final product.

Skylar told me that it was easy to find other HBCU students to interview, since she is one herself. “Even at different schools, the HBCU community is a family that’s very connected,” she said. Through social media, she found about 20 different students in just two days.

Skylar made the students comfortable by treating the interview as a conversation, rather than something formal. (This is one of the interviewing skills we have been teaching our fellows so far this year. More on that below!)

“I spoke as if we were just two fellow college students talking about an issue within our own community. I gave my own perspectives to make them comfortable with sharing their own and used their previous answers to build off of when asking new questions,” she said.

Help us grow the HBCU Student Journalism Network

We’re proud of the work our HBCU fellows have done so far this year — we’ve helped them make new professional connections, and we’ve co-published stories with The Washington Post, Mississippi Today, and Capital B. We’ve coached fellows on interviewing tactics. And later this month, they’ll learn more about narrative writing and investigative reporting.

We hope to do more next year — with your support. Our goal is to grow our cohort from six students to 10, and to support them with an additional editor.

Donate here to support our efforts.

What to know about Parent PLUS loans

Parent PLUS loans have become a common choice for parents who want to help their children pay for education at an HBCU. But the loans come with steep interest rates, and the program doesn’t consider a borrower’s ability to repay.

The loans “have the ability to be debilitating to Black families if Black families choose to use it as a major financial source,” said Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president at the United Negro College Fund.

In a story out todayTyuanna Williams and Brittany Patterson dug into the history of the loans, and why exactly they can become so difficult for families to pay back. The piece was co-published with Capital B.

Boosting student journalism at HBCUs

Wesley Wright poses with students at Southern University and A&M College as part of an effort to bolster HBCU student-led coverage.

Wesley Wright, the network’s assistant editor, works with organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists to help start, or even revive, student newspapers at HBCUs across the country. The initiative is called ReNews Project. Recently, he helped Coppin State University student journalists put together their first print issue in more than 20 years.

And, he visited Baton Rouge, La. to meet with editors and student journalists — including one of our fellows, Brittany Patterson (pictured).

Morehouse is confronting norms of masculinity

Students gather during Morehouse College Founders Day, Feb. 14, 2023. (Auzzy Byrdsell)

Auzzy Byrdsell, our fellow at Morehouse College, published a story recently about a culture shift at the men’s college. What was once a campus rooted in traditional views of masculinity is now questioning what it really means to be a Morehouse man.

“We don’t want to put masculinity in a box,” freshman LaQuinton Gaines told Auzzy. “We’re confronting the norms. The Morehouse man in 2023 is gay, straight, nonbinary, and maybe transitioning.”

To report the story — which was co-published in Capital B Atlanta — Auzzy talked to students like Gaines, as well as Walter Kimbrough, the interim director of the Black Men’s Research Institute. The institute has brought in speakers such as George M. Johnson, a nonbinary writer and HBCU graduate who wrote a book on their upbringing as a Black queer man in America.

Congrats to our fellows!

A few of our fellows are celebrating exciting wins:

  • Auzzy Byrdsell, a senior at Morehouse, will be working on the Boston Celtics’ communications team through theNBA x HBCU Fellowship.
  • Jasper Smith, a junior at Howard, will be a digital media intern at the Arizona Republic this summer, via the Dow Jones News Fund. Plus, the Society of Professional Journalists named Jasper a feature-writing finalist for her reporting on students using GoFundMe to pay tuition costs.
  • Tyuanna Williams, a junior at Claflin University, will be interning at the Times and Democrat in Orangeburg, S.C. Plus, she will be participating in the Bloomberg Journalism Diversity Program next month.

Interested in becoming a fellow?

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

Thanks for reading!

I’d like to hear from you. Reach out to me at naomi@opencampusmedia.org.

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