Take a lesson from Trump. Seriously.
Nearly a year ago, Justin Bruno and Devin Harrison won election to lead Florida A&M University’s Student Government Association. But questions about voting discrepancies at the school’s Orlando-based law school through the results into question, and resulted in a lawsuit that returned the case back to campus for students to issue the last word on the outcome.
Morehouse College student leaders were barred from a meeting that eventually led to the non-renewal of president John Silvanus Wilson’s contract, and a lawsuit threat from students and faculty.
Campus queens at Fayetteville State University and Southern University are at the center of attention at not because of their campaign’s for Ebony Magazine’s signature edition. Neither Bria Perkins or FSU administrators have provided insight on the removal of her crown.
FSU students protest after administrators strip Miss FSU of title
Fayetteville State University administrators decided not to reconsider their decision to strip Miss FSU of her crown…www.fayobserver.com
And in Louisiana, students continue to express outrage over SGA President Zana Harris and an alleged tweet containing a homophobic slur, along with changes to the student government constitution barring students without previous SGA experience from campaigning for executive office.
None of these issues were worth becoming public controversies.
In a media spin cycle intensely focused on Trump shenanigans, anything that local dailies can connect with political scandal is likely to become front page or 6:00 p.m. news.
The more reaction from students on Twitter and Instagram, the likelier reporters are to wind up on campus getting student reaction and repackaging their angst for prime time. And there are reasons which go deeper than the typical fight against questions of relevance based upon student discontent.
HBCUs already have a problem with retaining female campus presidents. Do we really want this to extend to females in student leadership?
HBCUs are regaining traction in alumni relations and philanthropy, with some studies suggesting that this support will increase over the next two years. From viewpoints of donor cultivation, do we really want to piss off the students whom are most likely to become wealthy graduates who ignore the school at the age of 62 because of how they were treated when they were 22?
Administrators should never allow stories involving students to rise to the level of public discourse. If the student is wrong, certain federal policies and general black folk ethics prohibit administrators from causing them public embarrassment.
And if the student is right, it opens the door for students with similar complaints real and perceived to make claims against the institution.
Rules for engaging HBCU student respect
Student controversy should always be handled quickly and respectfully by campus leaders because one controversy can shape the dynamic of media and alumni relations, board inquiry and donor engagement. But the best practice of all is to follow four rules of engagement before something goes wrong.
Rule 1 — Encourage students to attend meetings and let them in.
Short of meetings with discussion about legal or personnel issues, HBCU presidents should encourage students to attend meetings. Private HBCUs as well. Their tuition money pays everyone’s salary, keeps all of the lights on, and builds trust in administrative processes and personalities. As long as they are respectful, let them in and let them participate.
Rule 2 — Stay engaged with student leadership, not in control of them.
Advise students, but do not tell them what to do to best meet your objectives about student affairs budgeting, respectability politics for black millennials, and social issue management. Let students be young people; allow them to be militant, angry, lazy, misguided, and all of the things we were at that age. And them instruct them on the fruits of those traits, both for individuals and the institution.
Rule 3 — Recognize the power of the HBCU student body
It may be easy for presidents and chancellors to look at students the way we were looked at 20, 30 or 40 years ago — with a disdain when students dare to question authority. But with the technology and the attitude that mobilization is the answer to all problems, every disrespected student counts for at least 10 more willing to hashtag the school into a negative news story. They should not be censored, bribed, blackmailed or bullied into compliance for an administrative view of student life or leadership — mostly because these tactics are now impossible to implement without consequence.
Rule 4 — Be a leader, not a friend.
A majority of students come to HBCUs to realize a lofty expectation of black excellence, and part of that expectation is for president to look, act and to lead as more refined versions of their mothers and fathers. Students are not peers; they can be peers-in-waiting for transition after graduation, but today they are eager for your wisdom and example as the best version of professional and educated blackness.
Rule 5 — Listen, explain and listen some more.
Students are not artfully educated on the elements of budget and management, food service contracts, facilities and maintenance planning or federal compliance requirements for academic infrastructure. But they are experts on knowing when computer labs aren’t open, food and rooms suck, and when they have to wait a year to take one class for graduation. Listen to their issues, explain the principles of funding and allocation to more people than just those serving in SGA, and promote opportunities for students to be regularly heard.