Whites on black campuses; Learning a lesson in how to be a minority

Black colleges need to teach whites how to be a minority on campus, says Harvard Prof. Charles V. Willie. Noting that predominantly black institutions already teach blacks to be a majority, he often repeats the theme he introduced at a Negro Educational Review Conference nearly a year ago:

"One possible future function for black colleges is that of serving as settings in which whites may enroll as the minority. I call on all black schools today to recruit 10 to 22 percent of their student body from whites. . . . Let us petition the great foundations of this country to support 5,000 to 10, 000 white young people as members of black college student bodies --so that they may be helped with a new kind of education that emphasizes justice and liberation."

However, a white presence on traditionally black college campuses is not new. Organized by white Christian missionaries from the North, black colleges of the post-Civil War days were run by whites.

The election of Mordecai Johnson in 1929 as the first black president of Howard University, even then the nation's most prestigious black educational institution, initiated a national trend to drop white presidents of black colleges.

White students are enrolled in virtually all black colleges, but most of them maintain a low profile. They do not often participate in the social or political life of the campus, preferring to commute.

Behind the scenes, white administrators maintain a strong presence at many black colleges. And they say they like their jobs.

Among those willing to discuss their experiences in interviews with the Monitor were Jack Hayes, science professor at Paine College in Augusta, Ga.; Raymond Davis, vice-president for development at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.; and David Witherspoon, director of the news bureau at North Carolina Central.

Working at a rising school like Paine College serves two purposes for Professor Hayes: he touches base with national professional and academic scientific associations, agencies, and foundations, and he brings high level science opportunities -- ranging from special research to summer jobs -- to a college that appeals to rural blacks from Georgia and South Carolina.

At Paine since 1969, he also has developed a pre-professional program in the sciences and engineering that entitles students to a dual degree with such schools as Georgia Institute of Technology and Tuskegee Institute, colleges that most Paine students would not qualify by test scores to enter.

At Johnson C. Smith, a private college, Mr. Davis heads up the school's fund-raising drive which officials hope will net $20 million in 10 years.

"The time for funding minority schools, especially strong ones like Smith, is now," he said. "We are beginning to move around the corner as a solvent, black institution that deserves front door entry, not side door slipping in, for foundation funds."

As a white, Mr. Witherspoon says he enjoys working at North Carolina Central because "new sources are funding us. They are no longer giving this school pittances."

Noting that the faculty is 30 percent white with a low turnover, he said, "I work here because I think North Carolina Central is performing a valuable service, and I want to be part of this effort ."

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