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Our Village, Our Digital Innovation: HBCUv

I recently had an opportunity to reflect upon our recent UNCF UNITE summit theme, “Delivering on the Promise of Black Higher Education,” and about what it means to me.

I think about my higher education experience. I attended a predominately White institution, and I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared to be there both mentally and academically, and I struggled. I struggled with finding my place and struggled with succeeding in my courses. When I finally “got it together,” I was accused of being the “teacher’s pet” and “doing too much.” There was no winning.    

In my doctoral studies, I enrolled in a course that changed my life: “The Praxis of Black Education” taught by the preeminent scholar in Black Education, Dr. Joyce E. King. Dr. Valora RichardsonDr. Valora Richardson

It was the first time I had ever taken a college course where the instructor was a Black woman, and all the students were Black women. In the course, we discussed the issues facing Black education and talked about how we were positioned to make a positive impact and to make sure that we were educated with the “right mind” as Carter G. Woodson and W.E.B. Du Bois observed, that would benefit the Black community. 

The nurturing and guidance that I received in that course developed bonds that still continue to this day. The content of the course was incredible, but there we also established a village of support, empowerment and love. That, to me, is the promise of Black higher education—an historic tradition of academic and cultural excellence.

The trajectory of my education and occupation changed because of that one class. I set my aspirations based on a new-found commitment to use my knowledge and experience to have a lasting impact on my community and to find a place that would embrace my desire to do so. And I have found that place.

As the leader of Digital Solutions at the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building (ICB) charged with launching HBCUv, I now have the extraordinary opportunity to help ensure the success of future generations of Black students by implementing innovations, solutions and experiences that provide them with early access to educational epiphanies that confirm their racial identity and life vocation. 

HBCUv is an innovative learning technology ecosystem that is nothing short of revolutionary. It will reimagine the legacy, community and culture of HBCUs into a virtual experience that’s accessible, equitable and connected. To reach its full potential, we must honor our institutions’ students, faculty and staff as true partners—not the consultants in the room—but as our community stakeholders. They are our inspiration. We insist on listening to them with open minds and hearts. 

We’ve already learned through a months-long process of co-creating this new learning online ecosystem that: 

·        Students want to be engaged in the full college experience and learning processes based on their preferred learning styles. And they want to be inspired by real-world experiences. We’re asking further: What does it mean to be a Black college student in America, especially in the virtual world? What does success mean to them, as a student and post-graduation?  Our research revealed that 61% of students who work and/or volunteer find managing their time is easier since shifting to online learning.

·         Faculty want to be better prepared to engage and build trusting relationships with their students. They want to connect with peers across HBCUs in institutionalizing Black pedagogy to prepare our graduates for a world that doesn’t always recognize and value our Black racial identities and heritage.  We found that 51% of faculty are very or extremely interested in collaborating with other HBCU faculty to discuss evidence-based best practices.

·         Staff and administrators want the ability to see a holistic picture of students and foster student accountability, as well as open opportunities for community engagement and lifelong learning. 

·         The entire HBCU community wants an environment where personal well-being is centered, prioritized and incorporated into the day-to-day experience.

HBCUv is our collective endeavor. It will be developed intentionally with the voices of our village. I am proud to lead HBCUv for two reasons: first, because it will be measured by its power to preserve and share Black joy, as my colleague Edward Smith-Lewis wrote about. Second, and more critically, I am proud to help shape a platform that will advance the principles of the Black higher education tradition to all parts of our education ecosystem. 

I look forward to sharing more in the coming months as HBCUv is designed and comes to life.

Dr. Valora Richardson is director, Digital Solutions and Innovations, Institute for Capacity Building at the United Negro College Fund. 

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