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Harris-Stowe State University put on a number of events recently in honor of the inauguration of Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack, the university’s 19th president. At the age of 37, Warmack is also the youngest serving president of a four-year university in the nation.
One of the featured inaugural events was a symposium exploring the relevancy of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in today’s educational landscape. Dr. Warmack will led a panel of innovative and dynamic university presidents including: Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Fla.; Dr. Kevin D. Rome, Sr., Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. and Dr. Kent J. Smith, Jr., Langston University in Oklahoma City. HEC-TV’s award-winning journalist Sharon Stevens moderated the symposium.
“A national tragedy happened here in the St. Louis region with the Mike Brown tragedy — roughly about 16 miles from this institution — and being the only historically black college in the city of St. Louis, we felt we had a civic and a moral responsibility to respond. A large percentage of our students are from the Ferguson-Florissant School District so it was important for us that we take a lead. Those are tough conversations when it comes to race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, all of the ‘isms’ that come behind that. HBCUs have to be at the forefront of leading these conversations. Unfortunately, a variety of institutions are fearful of creating that safe space to have that conversation, so HBCUs have to continue to be the pioneers and stepping outside the comfort zone to create an environment where individuals can have those conversations.”
“At HBCUs, we have a responsibility of teaching our students about race, class, and gender issues as well because the truth is that once they graduate, they will enter environments in which these very circumstances will replicate themselves. And so I think if we educate them in a certain way — to teach them how to not only navigate the issues, but also become leaders addressing the issues — we will help society long-term.”
“HBCUs play a critical and valuable role in shaping the discussion around issues of race in our society. The value of our HBCU is affording our students a safe space to have conversations, to shape policy and opinion. Our goal, our object, in fact our mission, is to teach our students to be culturally aware, to be affective advocates, and to be educated about the issues that impact our communities in particular.”
“In the heart of the civil rights movement, the historical black colleges and our students were the social activists that changed this country and it’s important for us to remember that and go back to a time where students were empowered and they realized that if change was going to occur, it was going to come from the college campuses. And so, we really need to reflect on our past and think about what we should be doing today as historically black colleges and the roles of our students. We can’t afford education just for education sake, we need education that has social activism as a part of it because the issues haven’t changed that drastically and we’re still faced with many areas of oppression in this county, and so if our students don’t take up that charge, who is going to do it?”