As a policy chief for all of America’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) and a retired professor and provost at HBCUs, I would not question Dr. Marybeth Gasman’s empirically reached conclusions about HBCUs, even though she is neither Black nor an alum of one. I will, however, challenge her assertion that Omarosa Manigault is unqualified to champion HBCU interests and concerns in the Trump White House.
Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Center for Minority Serving Institutions, was quoted this week in The Washington Post regarding Manigault, stating that, “She may have gone to HBCUs, but she really knows nothing about education.” Manigault is director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from historically Black universities.
I first met Manigault in December 2016 following Mr. Trump’s election victory. She held a listening session with about 40 HBCU leaders who NAFEO (National Association for equal Opportunity in Higher Education) convened in Atlanta to discuss their priorities for the Trump administration. Since I had never watched “The Apprentice” reality TV show, I had no preconceived notions about her. Instead, I listened as she talked about her unique and rewarding experiences as a student at three HBCUs.
Manigault expressed her belief that circumstances have presented an opportunity for her to give back to the institutions that gave her a chance for a better life. She spoke of her time working in the Clinton White House for Tipper Gore and the lessons she had learned. The HBCU leaders in her audience shared her intense commitment to getting their cares and concerns before President Trump.
She said she believed, as did her audience, that HBCUs should seek early action on a new executive order within the first days of the new administration. Her depth, range and scope of knowledge about issues critical to success for students at HBCUs were self-evident. Manigault explained that Pell Grants, student and parent loans, and work-study jobs are insufficient for most HBCU students to persist and graduate. She led discussions about the rising costs of attending college; unfunded deferred maintenance on HBCU campuses; enlisting private donors; student support services’ needs; and student life issues, all in an academically responsible manner.
NAFEO has continued to work with Manigault as our liaison to engage the Trump administration about the pressing issues important to HBCUs and their larger communities. While funds for students in need and for strengthening HBCUs are our principal concerns, we also seek federal and state support of households in the communities that engulf HBCUs.
NAFEO, on behalf of HBCUs, will continue to point out to the Trump administration that some HBCU students may drop out because adequate paying jobs evade them and their families; that HBCU students and their families respect and support police and seek to be protected, like all families, by them. We will insist that these students and their families need affordable health care, accessible mass transit, clean water and air, a livable home, and a healthy diet.
We will point out that HBCUs must be funded comparability to their historically White counterparts by their state and federal governments. We will continue to shout at the top of our lungs that HBCU students’ lives matter, and their families’ lives matter as well. We are confident that Manigault understands these perspectives because she, too, has lived the HBCU experience, and it is our shared experience that qualifies her more than anything to articulate HBCUs’ cares and concerns to President Trump.
It is not easy to suppress one’s anger and frustration at how Manigault’s capabilities were so casually besmirched by Gasman. However, HBCU presidents and their stakeholders noticed how Manigault, as a chief adviser, helped guide candidate Trump’s gaze toward their institutions during his campaign. Moreover, at her insistence, President Trump selected HBCUs to be his first focus in higher education policy.
HBCUs, their students and communities have benefited from being at the center of American public policy during the first month of the Trump presidency. Omarosa Manigault is more responsible for the administration’s focus on HBCUs than anyone is. In addition, she achieved all of this with grace, dignity and skill indicative of HBCU graduates nationwide.
Accordingly, HBCU leaders, stakeholders and advocates neither seek nor benefit from Gasman’s assessments of Manigault’s qualifications as our liaison to the Trump administration. Our community is the accreditor of her efforts on behalf of HBCUs; Gasman is not, and cannot accredit her until she too has experienced firsthand what Manigault did as an HBCU student and alum. We value our association with Omarosa Manigault and we are proud of her, too.
Napoleon Moses is senior fellow for policy, advocacy, and communications at the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO).