HBCUs Can't Win With Google

HBCU graduate and former Google diversity recruiter Abril Curley started a story in December that felt all too real to graduates of historically Black institutions and to Black people at large who have had earned seats at corporate tables pulled away from them.

Her story turned into a meeting between Google executives and five presidents of public HBCUs, with both sides going into the meeting wanting more insight to forge a better path forward. Curley revealed more information ahead of the meeting.

Both threads provide a detailed, first-person account of Google’s approach (or lack thereof) to minority hiring exclusively from HBCUs. Along with public comments from former Google Artificial Intelligence official Timnit Gebru, there is a growing volume of attributed perspective on Google’s mismanagement of its relationships with Black colleges and their students.

Consider Gebru’s direct response to a quote from Morgan State University President David Wilson, who was among the five presidents on the call with Google executives and told CNN that a focus group he assembled of Morgan students and alumni working at Google hard largely positive feedback about their experiences at the company.

Few presidents lack credibility as much as Wilson, who two years ago publicly said he wanted Maryland’s historically Black flagship to be regarded as “more than an HBCU” and who wrote articles contradicting movement and planned music campus video shoots during legislative testimony to disrupt a federal lawsuit seeking equity between the state’s HBCUs and its predominantly white peer institutions.

Wilson’s history as a nearly-fired, attention-craving HBCU executive explains why he was the only president to speak on the record for this article. Still, it doesn’t dim the glaring reality that many HBCU leaders have not directly spoken to the issue.

Consider the joint statement from Google and the HBCU presidents issued after the meeting:

"After today’s meeting between HBCU presidents and Google’s leadership team, including CEO Sundar Pichai, we are all encouraged about the future partnership. While Google and many HBCU institutions have an ongoing relationship, the meeting paved the way for a more substantive partnership in a number of areas, from increased hiring to capacity building efforts, that will increase the pipeline of tech talent from HBCUs."

From the presidents’ individual silence to the ambiguity of the mutual post-meeting statement, it makes sense that they would not want to affirm former Googlers’ accusations or deny them.

If HBCU leaders legitimize Curley and Gebru’s claims beyond this meeting, it could suggest that their individual pipelines and programs with Google aren’t working. People could demand that they cut off a pipeline that has infused hundreds of HBCU student interns and dozens of hired HBCU graduates over the last few years into an unsafe, toxic work environment that happens to be the most powerful tech company on planet Earth.

If they disparage Curley and Gebru’s claims, it could suggest that they don’t care about hundreds of HBCU student interns and dozens of hired HBCU graduates working in an unsafe, toxic work environment that happens to be the most powerful tech company on planet Earth.

Google has a problem to which it has admitted and still struggles mightily to fix, and two Black women have provided receipts of the damage the company has yielded over a handful of years. The HBCU presidents are in an unenviable position of publicly solving the riddle that eludes the smartest people in culture, industry, and politics the world over:

How do you prepare people of color to integrate and thrive in environments that thrive by keeping us out?