Why Black Academics See a Bigger Purpose in Teaching at HBCUs Over Other Colleges

Howard University

Not long after she returned to Howard University as a professor in 2013, Jennifer Thomas found herself overcome with emotion. Tears formed in her eyes as the school song blared from the clock tower on the Washington, D.C., campus.

Thomas called it a “full circle” moment. She spent 25 years as an award-winning local and national television producer, almost always the lone Black woman in her position. But there she was, back on The Yard, as a journalism professor, and the juxtaposition of college years and new career side by side was poignant.

“The reality of teaching students who walked those same paths I walked was very surreal,” she said. “I’m even teaching out of the same classrooms I sat in as a student. And some of my professors are now my colleagues. It’s all been the most overwhelming thing.”

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Overwhelming, but rewarding. Thomas said she made the choice to change careers for one reason: The opportunity to educate Black students at a historically Black college.

“I was perfectly intentional in coming to Howard,” Thomas, the college’s journalism sequence coordinator, told NBC News. “And I have been over the moon being here. For Black professors, working at an HBCU can’t be about the money. It’s a calling.”

The matter of Black college professors — and tenure — came to the fore this spring when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure at the University of North Carolina’s school of journalism was controversially delayed.

Although she had been approved through the protracted process, members of the UNC board of trustees held off her confirmation reportedly because they were uncomfortable with the “1619 Project” she created two years ago for the New York Times Magazine. Among conservatives, the project depicting the country’s founding in 1619, when the first documented enslaved Africans came to Colonial Virginia, was considered unpatriotic and controversial.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Curtis Bunn

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