Triumphs and Challenges in Y2K
It is hard to believe how panicked some of us were around this time last year. As Y2K neared, people expressed emotions of indifference, cautious anxiety and even fears of Armageddon. Fortunately, to the discredit of the doomsayers, the 21st century commenced without incident. For African Americans in higher education, historic achievements as well as many painful reminders that our struggle for equity continues marked this first year of the new millennium.
Dr. Ruth Simmons’ appointment as president of Brown University is one of the year’s most significant accomplishments. As the nation’s first African American to head an Ivy League institution, she is charting territory that historically has been forbidden to Blacks. But getting the job is the easy part. Keeping it long enough to have a transformational effect is her next challenge, one for which she will need the support and encouragement of her allies as never before.
Simmons isn’t the only one whose new job indicates a widening embrace of Black leadership by higher education’s mainstream. Dr. Yolanda Moses became the new president of the American Association for Higher Education; Jackie Woods landed the helm of the American Association of University Women; and Dr. William Harvey took the helm of the American Council on Education’s office of minorities in higher
On the technology front, Y2K was marked by the beginning of the Gates Millennium Scholars program; the development of a digital divide section at the annual TechEd conference; and the convening of a national HBCU technology conference. The harvest of these programs won’t be reaped for a while, still, each is poised to make a dramatic contribution in the essential movement to funnel more people of color into technology.
While these achievements give us reasons to celebrate the dawn of the new century, other trends are causes for concern.
The ongoing struggles of Black men in our society — especially in the area of education — demand greater attention by the scholarly community. Black male athletes cannot continue to score points on our athletic fields while striking out in the classroom — as documented in a recent National Collegiate Athletic Association study.
Y2K was a relatively quiet year for affirmative action. Schools like the University of California-Berkeley are no longer hemorrhaging from the gashes brought on by the banning of affirmative action, but they are still wincing from the pain.
Now, all eyes are focused on the University of Michigan, as the courts will likely rule next year to determine the fate of that university’s affirmative action program. Irrespective of that outcome, it is essential that we continue to press for policies that widen the doors of educational opportunity for people of color.
In Y2K Florida A&M finally won the right to establish a law school. Despite this achievement,
HBCUs continue to have to fight for their fair share of higher education’s resources.
And as is true each year, we lost several friends in Y2K. The work of people like Dr. Rhonda Williams, Dr. Barbara Christian, Dr. Miller A.F. Ritchie and, most recently, Gwendolyn Brooks must now be a beacon for those they have left behind. Whether producing better research, adding Black perspectives to the curriculum, uncovering new strategies for improving the academic success of Black students, or simply expanding the numbers of Black students who emerge with postsecondary degrees, we must carry their legacy forward.
Cheryl D. Fields
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