Bennett College for Women is an oasis where we educate and celebrate women and develop them into twenty-first-century leaders and global thinkers. That was my elevator speech in the five years, from 2007 through 2012, when I led the college. It is still an oasis, a safe space for Black women and others who embrace our mission. It still educates and celebrates women. But now, in 2018-2019, my college has challenges. The accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, has said that Bennett College is fiscally unstable. If we can’t raise a minimum of $5 million by February 1, 2019, just a few weeks from now, the school will lose its accreditation!
How has it come to this? Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had a tough row to hoe for a plethora of reasons. At Bennett, enrollment has dropped from the historic high I managed of 750 in 2009 to something under 500. Thanks to the efforts of the current president, Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, enrollment rose by 15 percent and by 26 percent with new students this year. That’s good, but we’ve got to be great. What’s great? Student enrollment of 800 or more. Great is, an endowment that is robust and unique academic programs. What’s great is the preservation of an amazing Black women’s history, a history that is too often swallowed.
History belongs to she who holds the pen. That was my mantra at Bennett. We need to tell Black women’s stories, and this is a place that reflects them. For every woman who embraces #MeToo, there must be another who embraces the swallowed aspects of Black women’s history. We don’t often hear, for example, of the fantastic legacy of Dr. Willa Player, the first woman President of Bennett College, and the first African American woman to become president of a four-year fully accredited Liberal Arts College. Dr. Player was an amazing grace, a woman who was both a civil rights leader and an excellent educator. She had the audacity to invite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel when no one else in Greensboro would have him. She supported the Bennett students who took part in the Woolworth’s sit-ins (a chapter of history not much elevated as the A&T Greensboro Four were the more prominent leaders). Make no mistake. Bennett women were jailed. Bennett women stood up. And Dr. Player stood with them.
Bennett College has a unique history, and it is a history that must be preserved. It will only be maintained if folks who love women, women’s history, and the elevation of Black women’s voices come together to find five million dollars in just a few weeks. I am writing this column to appeal to those who will help. Here’s how:
Year after year we hear stories of HBCUs that are facing financial challenges. Why is this one different and special, and what will Bennett do to ensure that it does not reencounter some of these challenges?
Bennett College is prepared to engage in a strategic planning initiative to move us from surviving to thriving. We are prepared to engage in 21st-century technology to make our campus work. We need resources to move to the next step, and we are ready to raise those funds with just a little help. Are you in?
Bennett College President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins has been bold, firm, and strategic, as she has faced these challenges. She says, “We look forward to working with partners who understand that their investment supports the education of deserving young women whose potential is only limited by the opportunities we give them. Our challenge is great. Our time is short. Our resolve is mighty.”
I #StandwithBennett at www.bennett.edu/donate Will you? Please send your dollars and your ideas. Please help us water the oasis!
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit http://www.juliannemalveaux.com/