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Black libraryby Melissa E. Wooten

Earlier this year, South Carolina State University became a national topic of conversation. PBS, NPR, and the New York Times each ran stories documenting the school’s financial woes and the resulting tumult. The South Carolina House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Higher Education proposed to shut down the state’s only publicly supported historically black university because the school was in debt to the tune of $11 million.

The university’s trustees voted to place the school’s president on administrative leave, alumni protested, and ultimately, South Carolina legislators did not close the school.

The fact that casual observers mostly hear about historically black colleges and universities in moments of crises adds fuel to the fire of those that wonder “Are black colleges still necessary?” More than any other, this is the question I was asked as I researched, discussed, and wrote about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

A consequence of living in a multi-cultural society that purports to value diversity is that we are suspicious of black colleges. At a fundamental level, the question, “Are black colleges still necessary?” implies that it is easy to identify the value in some colleges – those that are predominantly white – but not those that are predominantly black.

HBCUs play a critical role in the production of highly educated, successful black Americans. Though they account for a relatively small proportion (3%) of U.S. colleges and universities, roughly 40 percent of blacks earning science, technology, engineering, and math degrees do so at black colleges. Eighty-five percent of black medical doctors attend a black college at some point in their educational career. Forty percent of black doctoral degree holders earned their bachelor’s degree at a black college. These statistics beg the question of why it is so difficult to conceive of HBCUs as prestigious entities worthy of the same level of respect and accord we so easily dole out to so called “mainstream” or predominantly white colleges.

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Time chefsby Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre

Imagine you’ve stepped inside one of those foodie television shows. You know, the ones set in fine dining restaurants where waiters and sous chefs dash around the kitchen at a frenetic pace, calling out food orders, and tasting dishes in hopes they will live up to the executive chef’s exacting palate. The executive chef moves through the kitchen and is clearly in charge of the action. Maybe the chef you’re imagining is barking orders at subordinates. Maybe they’re appraising the kitchen with a cool eye.

Now, imagine you’re in a different type of kitchen—a kitchen in the “typical” middle-class American home. In this setting, the “chef” is grabbing food out of the refrigerator and, instead of sous chefs, young children are whipping around the kitchen talking about soccer games and piano lessons that have to be worked into everyone’s schedule. Instead of worrying about earning another Michelin star or impressing a food reviewer, this “chef” is just trying to get dinner on the table for the family.

In the two scenarios above, what genders did you imagine for the chefs? If you’re like most people, you probably pictured the professional chef as a man dressed in a white jacket and toque while the second scene may have led to visions of harried mothers, perhaps still in the clothes they wore to work, frantically trying to get dinner on the table for her family.

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