Tennessee State Grad Becomes a Capitol Hill Star via Conference Call, Are HBCU Faculty Getting Meaner Online and Hampton Alumni Virtual Party Raises Money for Students

The good news is that people are observing stay at home rules and working hard to flatten the curve. The bad news? Many brothers and sisters are at the front lines of essential service and support during the COVID-19 pandemic response — and significant risk for severe health problems or death.
During and after this pandemic, HBCUs will be at the forefront of understanding the public health, sociopolitical and economic impact of the pandemic on black people and communities. To do that work, they will need revenue.
If there ever was a time where we had to work our hardest to recruit students and donors to our institutions, it is now.
Stay safe, but stay engaged.

— JCS


Photo: Erin Schaff / New York Times

Tennesee State Alumna Earnestine Dawson Profiled by “New York Times”

A Tennessee State University alumna charged with managing conference calls for the nation’s Democratic legislative braintrust during the coronavirus pandemic has found her way to pages of one of the world’s most influential newspapers.

The New York Times tells the story of how Earnestine Dawson, a TSU graduate with eyes of becoming the nation’s first black woman elected to Congress from Mississippi, takes charge as the House Democratic Caucus’ digital director, charged with convening and managing digital conferences on congressional activity and policy debate.

From the Times:

Ms. Dawson has moderated more than a dozen two-hour caucus calls since March 16, facilitating nearly 300 questions from 235 individual lawmakers. Often the calls feature special guests. Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, briefed Democrats on Monday, and Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and other members of the president’s coronavirus task force fielded questions from them on Wednesday.

Ms. Dawson is a constant, telling lawmakers to “press star three” to ask questions, gently teaching members twice her age how to unmute their phones, and letting them know — sounding more like a party D.J. than a telephone operator — when they have the floor to speak. She does it all from her desk in the basement of the House Longworth Building across from the Capitol, where she prefers to work rather than being at home…

To Representative Richard Neal, 71, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Ms. Dawson is a reminder of “what radio meant to us” in the simpler days of his childhood. To Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, 66, Ms. Dawson is “a touchstone” and “a rock — the glue that keeps you together” in a troubled, uncertain time.

Mr. Hoyer says Ms. Dawson deserves a title: “We need to get a name for her, like ‘Conference Queen’ or something like that. Very few of us know her personally, but we all know her through this phone connection, and she’s the connector.”



Has Online Learning Encouraged Increased Demand from HBCU Faculty?

Kentucky State University President M. Christopher Brown II released a letter to the campus community yesterday, outlining some of the triumphs and challenges of KSU during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Stories of students and faculty mobilizing to stand up online learning and practicing social distancing punctuated the effort of Thorobreds to protect themselves and each other. These details were a stark contrast to notes about the mounting numbers of sick parents and friends and the tragic deaths of KSU family and relatives.

But a logistical note emerged for specific note and discussion.

Yet there is something about all of the Blackboard wizardry and tripod cameras that morbidly lulls us into an unconscionable blindness to the global pandemic resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths in a matter of weeks. 

All of a sudden everyone wants to complete all of their paperwork and schedule dozens of meetings a day. Is this to avoid watching the body bags pile up?

All of a sudden every professor wants to be imaginative about pedagogy and teaching design. Everyone wants engagement and participation.

Let me be clear, COVID-19 is not an exercise in metacognitive teaching and learning. It is not possible to do online everything that was originally planned for class or lab. Some assignments are no longer possible. It is an unreasonable expectation that mastery of every learning objective is possible in the weeks remaining.

How can our faculty master teaching online while they tend to aging parents or homeschool children of their own?

How can our students master learning when their fathers and mothers are literally dying in the other room as they try to watch a lecture on a cellphone?

No one planned for COVID-19 and everyone deserves compassion, consideration and empathy.

As the students petition for pass-fail grades and the faculty debate the proper day for withdrawals, everything seems surreal. Where is the heart?  Where is the concern? Some things should not be driven by policy, but by passion.

HBCUs are known for instructional rigor and unwavering expectations of excellence. This is paired with the magical asset of why our schools continue to produce quality graduates who excel in every field and endeavor — nurturing.

But is it possible that distance learning tips the balance between the cultures of required excellence and familial support? Can the effort to reduce academic dishonesty among students or for faculty to prove their productivity while working from home, create a new culture where you can’t have coach and cheerleader leading the same Blackboard discussion question?

It may seem to be a small thing, but it is something that can play a big role in student retention, faculty satisfaction and metrics of performance, all of which will be dramatically changed during this long-term pandemic response. We may have to go into the Fall 2020 semester with the same instructional set-up as Spring 2020; so at what point will presidents, deans, and department chairs begin conversations with adjunct and full-time faculty about how to more clearly define the line between standards and leniency?



Hampton Alumni Raise $12,500 for Student Emergency Support

Members of the Hampton University National Alumni Association raised more than $12,5000 last week during a virtual party in support of the organization’s Student Emergency Fund.

Launched last fall, the fund’s success takes special meaning as Hampton and other HBCUs work to confirm as many students as possible for the return of the fall semester.

“After this pandemic slows and things begin to return to normal, there will be an even greater need from students who were impacted by COVID-19, and we are prepared to do what we can,” said Association National President Gena Pemberton.

The fundraising party coincides with the debut of Hampton’s new virtual campus tour.