Celebrating Blackness at an HBCU

When people think of Lincoln University, among the first things that come to mind is its storied past and the alumni, such as Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes and Kwame Nkrumah, who have made a significant impact in the struggle for human rights.

One of the ironies of being at Lincoln is that it does not have an African-American studies program. This has been mentioned more frequently in recent months as a group of faculty members have floated the idea of bringing an African-American studies curriculum back to the university.

There are arguments on both sides. One of the problems that some African-American studies programs have had to deal with is moving past a 1960s and 1970s-based curriculum of understanding the African-American and global Black experience. If such a program would be re-implemented at Lincoln, would it be able to embrace the expanse of the Black cultural experience?

On the flip side, Lincoln administrators are preparing for a slight – but noticeable – change in the school’s demographics over the next decade, particularly as more Whites from neighboring areas and Latinos enroll. How would these changes potentially impact integrating African-American studies courses into the curriculum?

In my short time at the university, I’ve come to understand what it is and what it isn’t and, more importantly, what it can be. I think universities can have an institutional identity without making students who are outside that identity uncomfortable.

Catholic universities, for the most part, are able to attract diverse students and teach courses well outside church doctrine without straying from their institutional mission. Similarly, HBCUs can and should emphasize learning about the African-American experience in a way that allows students of all backgrounds to benefit. Not all African-American students who attend Lincoln know the valuable contributions Black scholars have made in a variety of fields and disciplines. Perhaps it’s time they do.

I recently spoke with a Lincoln alum who talked about the university’s uniqueness: its ability to give students a strong sense of understanding the complexities of the Black experience. At a time when our civic discourse on race is virtually non-existent, perhaps a place such as Lincoln is ideal to have these discussions. I think they enrich students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds.

I think advancing the discourse on race would be the best way to celebrate Black history.

Dr. Murali Balaji is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Mass Communications at Lincoln University.