GVSU professor to examine relevance of historically black colleges, universities

Eva Perron

As part of Grand Valley State University’s Black History Month event lineup, Donald Mitchell Jr., assistant professor of higher education at GVSU, will host an interactive discussion titled “History and Culture of Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCU). The event will be held Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in 136 E of the DeVos Center.

“A historically black college or university is an institution founded for the education of black or African-American citizens within the United States before 1964,” Mitchell said. In other words, any predominantly black institution founded after the passing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 does not receive designation as a historical establishment.

“Some people see that name (HBCU) and wonder why we need these institutions in the 21st century,” Mitchell said.

During his discussion, Mitchell will examine how such organizations have assisted in the progression of education among the nation’s minorities.

“(HBCUs) have always served low-income students, first-generation students and women,” Mitchell said. “These populations were once excluded from predominantly white institutions.”

Bobby Springer, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at GVSU, said historically black colleges and universities serve to “start an excellent education provided with nurture and resources.”

Mitchell said the discussion would also be an opportunity to talk about how other universities, including GVSU, support students of color.

“We can discuss how our institution is supporting these students and how other institutions are supporting these students and how we might learn from each other,”Mitchell said.

With no set script in mind, Mitchell is open to any and all questions related to the discussion.

“Here, we are always thriving to become more inclusive,” he said. “Learning about these institutions and the things that they do to represent populations more broadly is our focus.”

To keep the conversation dynamic, introductory games will be presented, as well as prompt questions to better evaluate participants’ understanding. 

The culture of historically black colleges and universities serves as a reminder of a “very important link in the African-American experience,” Springer said.

“Early on, we were not able to go to many of the predominantly white institutions,” he said. “(We) had to go to those historical institutions, and it’s where we got our start.”

The importance of knowledge pertaining to diversity will form another part of the discussion.

“The more you know, the more you can share,” Springer said. “We try to be diverse in what we share with the community so people can have a wide view of things pertaining to the African-American experience.”

Mitchell hopes attendees leave the event with a better idea of the importance of historically black institutions and how that might relate to GVSU.

“Hopefully, people leave knowing the relevance of historically black institutions, knowing their culture and how we might identify (and) support some of our populations here at Grand Valley,” Mitchell said.

For more information about GVSU’s planned events for Black History Month, visit https://www.gvsu.edu/oma/black-history-month-24.htm.