Units February 16, 2024

HBCUs Matter (D.C.)

Lesson Summary: Graduate students analyze essays within The 1619 Project, as well as case studies from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) started by and led by formerly enslaved Black Americans, to amplify the importance of Black leadership, innovation, creativity, and community to educational reforms. Additionally students examine liberatory approaches used by Black leaders to highlight how these examples can inform the transformation of education today.
Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by the HBCUs Matter team as part of the 2023 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately four asynchronous sessions and is integrated in a mostly asynchronous graduate level course on higher education administration.


Students will…

(A) Develop an understanding of key themes and patterns in histories of HBCUs, HBCU governance, and HBCU administration 

(B) Consider how local histories of HBCU governance and higher education administration have been represented in public history and discourse

(C) Develop skills to think and write race consciously about foundations and approaches 

(D) Utilize digital archives as tools to raise awareness and critical questioning about traditional ideas and approaches to governance and administration 

(E) Analyze systems of oppression in education through community engaged work

Unit Overview

This mini-unit is part of a longer ELPS 606 Governance & Administration in Higher Education course to be offered at Howard University. It contains three lessons for class sessions that are two hours in length. This course embraces the philosophy and spirit of Sankofa, which is a Ghanaian phrase that encourages learning from the past to inform the future, reaching back to move forward, and lifting as we climb. This is an asynchronous hybrid course, so students will be expected to read materials on their own according to a set schedule. There will be four class meetings. The course also includes a discussion activity and  final project that require students to utilize The 1619 Project and other digital archival resources to examine, reflect, and critically write and discuss about the role of slavery and its aftermath on the past, current, and future approaches and practices of governance and administration of higher education.

The central themes explored in these lessons concern public history and discourse about slavery, democracy, and the way higher education is designed and executed. In the introductory essay to The 1619 Project, “The Idea of America,” Nikole Hannah-Jones explores the promise of the United States and the way that promise was compromised by the institutionalized bondage of Black Americans. In these lessons, students will examine and reflect on the context of the United States before, during, and after the establishment of various higher education institutions in order to identify the ways in which the institution of slavery and the dehumanization of Black Americans shaped the approaches and support for various types of institution of higher education and who those institutions served.

Another key component of these lesson plans is a case study of an HBCU [Hampton University (formerly Hampton Institute)]. Students will explore its founding, approaches to education for different populations at Hampton, and its governance structure and approaches to administration. The use of these components of the case study will provide real-world illustrations of how the socio-historical context of slavery informed and shaped debates and practices of governance and administration for institutions designed to educate non-white students, especially Black Americans and Native Americans.

Using the Hampton University case study will allow students to make direct connections to the past by examining a historical case study of practices of governance and administration at an HBCU.  Through the study of primary source documents, as well as scholarly articles about the history of Hampton, students will be asked to consider the role of history in shaping current practices, and how they can critically consider how to both incorporate and reject approaches to administration.

Performance Task:

There will be three main lessons connected to The 1619 Project, but the spirit of The 1619 Project and identifying linkages from the past to the present will be embedded throughout the course. Course units explicitly focused on utilizing The 1619 Project lessons will culminate in…

  1. An interactive discussion board activity. The prompt for this activity will be: 
  • Share a quote, poem, video, social media post, picture, or some other type of media that represents your feelings and/or  questions about the role of slavery and white supremacy in the way we currently practice governance and administration at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). 
  1. A blog post that includes the following prompts:
  • Draw from reading for this week OR an archival document, article or piece of media that depicts a pre-1965 leadership example from an HBCU. The leadership example should embody a particular quality or action you feel is critical for leaders today to possess.
  • Describe what the quality or action is and how you feel it is important for leadership in higher education today
  • Reflect on how this quality or action can be instilled or cultivated in more leaders in higher education today.
  1. A final project designed by participants to share with members of our community. The prompt for this project will be:
  • Create a paper, audio, visual, or audiovisual project that identifies, examines, and describes the origins, governance and leadership approach(es) of an established MSI. Drawing on available archival documents such as reports, videos, recordings, periodicals, etc., highlight how the historical origins of the institution informed what the current governance and leadership looks like at this MSI today.

After learning about how higher education has engaged with the history of slavery, students will begin to write brief accounts of racialized transformative leadership in higher education . Students will be asked to focus on the following two questions: 

  • How do we write public histories about higher education governance, administration, and leadership that center the lives of enslaved, formerly enslaved, and descendants of persons? 
  • How do we understand this in our learning of the ways in which we govern and manage higher education? 

Over the course of several weeks, students will learn more about the context, origins, and evolution of the education of Black Americans in the United States. The unit will conclude with students sharing their own historical case studies and analyses of governance and administration at various HBCUs and how it can inform future practice. 

Facilitation Notes:

Discussion Activities: For the discussion activities, students are required to respond to a posted question or prompt. Their response should be based on the readings, current events, and their own reflection. Depending on the number of students in the course, students will have to read 2-4 of their  classmates’ posts. If a discussion post already has X (educator can set this number) number of responses, students are encouraged to the next discussion post. Students also have to respond to posts from their classmates. Your initial post and first comments to their classmates are due by a particular day of the week. Subsequent replies to posts directed on the discussion are due at a later date in the week. 

Blogging: For blogging in this course, students can use the written word, podcast, or video such as TikTok. The only guidelines that students must adhere to are the university’s and course policies for appropriate classroom etiquette (i.e. no swearing, offensive or discriminatory language etc.).

For blog assignments, students will do the following:

1) Address the blog prompt for the assignment and tailor it to highlight their perspective in addition with supporting documentation and/or literature that supports their perspective.

2) Read, listen to, or view (depending on their chosen format type) three of their classmates’ blog posts and comment on those blog posts. If a blog already has X amount responses, they are encouraged to read the next blog.

3) Students are encouraged to take an editorial stance for blog posts, and to use art, video, podcast, etc., but their stance and overall use of digital materials must be informed and their reasoning for whatever they choose to do must be explained fully using readings, discussions, and any other course materials at their disposal. Student comments to classmates should be thoughtful and engage with the blogger’s content in a way that demonstrates critical thinking and reflection about the topic. Students will be graded for both their blog post and their comments on classmates’ posts.


The following rubric will be utilized to assess students' critical thinking and writing about the historical contexts and application of "The 1619 Project" insights, innovative project execution, and their ability to convey leadership aspects of The Hampton Institute. [.pdf][.docx]


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