Saving Bennett College
Julianne Malveaux | 1/4/2019, 6 a.m.
Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., is an oasis where we educate and celebrate women, and develop them into 21st century leaders and global thinkers.
That was my elevator speech in the five years, from 2007 through 2012, when I led the college. It is still an oasis, a safe space for black women and others who embrace our mission. It still educates and celebrates women.
But now, my college has challenges. The accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, has said that Bennett College is fiscally unstable. If we can’t raise a minimum of $5 million by Feb. 1, the school will lose its accreditation.
How has it come to this?
Historically black colleges and universities have had a tough row to hoe for a plethora of reasons. At Bennett, enrollment has dropped from the historic high I managed of 750 in 2009 to something under 500. Thanks to the efforts of the current president, Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, enrollment rose by 15 percent, and by 26 percent with new students this year.
That’s good, but we’ve got to be great — with a student enrollment of 800 or more. Great is an endowment that is robust and unique academic programs. Great is the preservation of an amazing black women’s history, a history that is too often swallowed.
History belongs to she who holds the pen. That was my mantra at Bennett. We need to tell black women’s stories, and this is a place that reflects them. We don’t often hear, for example, of the fantastic legacy of Dr. Willa Player, the first woman president of Bennett College and the first African-American woman to become president of a four-year, fully accredited liberal arts college.
Dr. Player was an amazing grace, a woman who was both a civil rights leader and an excellent educator. She had the audacity to invite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel when no one else in Greensboro would have him. She supported the Bennett students who took part in the Woolworth’s sit-ins — a chapter of history not as much elevated as the North Carolina A&T State University Greensboro Four who were the more prominent leaders.
Bennett College has a unique history, and it is a history that must be preserved. It will only be maintained if folks who love women, women’s history and the elevation of black women’s voices come together to give $5 million in just a few weeks. I am writing to appeal to those who will help.
• You can make a contribution to Bennett College. Check out our website, www.bennett.edu/donate.
• You can tell your friends to contribute. Take this column and make it viral. Take it to your church, to your sorority or fraternity, to your club, to your friends. Black folks have more than $1.3 trillion in annual income. Bennett College needs less than four-tenths of 1 percent of that.
• You can help us find an angel to help, not only with the $5 million that must be raised but also with a long-term contribution. If you have an angel that you’d like me, President Dawkins, or President Emerita Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole to talk with, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this time, we only need unrestricted dollars by Feb. 1.
Year after year we hear stories of HBCUs that are facing financial challenges. Why is this one different and special, and what will Bennett do to ensure that it does not re-encounter some of these challenges?
Bennett College is prepared to engage in a strategic planning initiative to move us from surviving to thriving. We are prepared to engage in 21st century technology to make our campus work. We need resources to move to the next step, and we are ready to raise those funds with just a little help.
Dr. Dawkins has been bold, firm, and strategic as she has faced these challenges. She says, “We look forward to working with partners who understand that their investment supports the education of deserving young women whose potential is only limited by the opportunities we give them. Our challenge is great. Our time is short. Our resolve is mighty.”
The writer is an author, economist and former president of Bennett College.