It is alarming to see a 10.6 percent decrease in HBCU student voting and a 5.3 percent decrease in total Black student voting between the 2012 and 2016 elections, given the history and tradition of HBCU and Black student political participation.
The HBCU Legacy Initiative came out of the desire to understand the specific barriers of these students and campuses instead of assuming that they simply did not want to participate in the electoral process.
HBCU Legacy Initiative
Campus Vote Project's HBCU Legacy Initiative aims to identify and address barriers to student voting on HBCU campuses, and Black student voting on predominantly white campuses, through various methods of research and the creation of new and innovative resources.
Introducing National HBCU Manager, Dylan Sellers
Preserving the Voices & Votes Of
Black Students Nationwide
The impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in United States history and politics is large and substantial. Since their inception, these institutions have produced pioneers of numerous industries. Their involvement in national and local movements such as organizing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which organized the Freedom Rides of 1962 (Shaw University), the Greensboro Sit-Ins of 1960 (North Carolina A&T State University), and the local desegregation activities of South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and many more, provide proof of a commitment to civic activity and political involvement.
Given this history and tradition, it was alarming to see a 10.6% decrease in HBCU student voting and a 5.3% decrease in total Black student voting between the 2012 and 2016 General Elections. However we have been encouraged by the sharp gain of 13% in HBCU student voting and 10% in total Black student voting between the 2016 and 2020 General Elections.
In preparation for the 2020 Election, Campus Vote Project’s HBCU Legacy Initiative and the NAACP Youth and College Division partnered to identify barriers to student voting on HBCU campuses through open and honest conversations, called HBCU Roundtables.
The information and perspectives presented in the first HBCU Legacy Initiative Insights Brief, issued in 2020, were the result of two HBCU Roundtable discussions held on April 21, 2020 and June 04, 2020, with 45 HBCU students representing 20 different campuses. That document outlined four major themes that emerged during these discussions and proposed solutions for those who engage and support HBCU students as they exercise their right to vote.
Following the 2020 Election and after seeing the feedback students provided in the 2020 version of the HBCU Legacy Initiative Insights Brief, Campus Vote Project decided to follow-up the original report in order to create a more holistic view of institutionalization on college campuses that included campus administrators. In order to do this, we conducted hour-long interviews with administrators representing a wide range of the HBCU experience, from large public to small privates, well-funded to systemically underfunded, well-established voter engagement programming, and those who are in the process of rebuilding. Given this new information, we have added three new themes to the HBCU Legacy Initiative Insights Brief and provided more context surrounding the themes students discussed during the original HBCU Round Tables.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities, like The Ivy League, are destination institutions with very rich legacies that draw students from all over the country. This dynamic presents unique circumstances for civic engagement of their students.
Misinformation and counterproductive communication with fellow students
In past elections we saw misinformation become a problem that touched every part of our society and HBCU campuses were not exempt. Inaccurate and/or skewed information from biased sources create an additional barrier to increase voter engagement on their campuses to do conversations about the legitimacy of the electoral process and the value of the Black vote.
HBCUs have a rich history of being at the center of fights for the advancement of human rights in America and specifically voting rights.
Contentious relationships with local elected officials and offices
Local elected officials have the ability to provide a wealth of resources and guidance to HBCU students. Unfortunately, the relationship between local elected officials and HBCU students does not always live up to the potential that it could because of contention caused by adherence to the stereotypes of differing political views.
A major theme that spanned across all interviews is the lack of institutional funding to do civic engagement work. We have observed campus administrators typically rely on grants and internal budgets to execute the work.
Lack of administrative support for campus work
Administrators support students and oversee campus operations in many facets, but at this this dynamic can create tension between two parties in the process of increasing voter engagement on HBCU campuses.
Partner vs. Client-based relationships
An overwhelming message shared by campus administrators boils down to the need to treat administrators and HBCU students like partners in this space, instead of clients that you need to meet a quota.
Intermittent engagement with candidates and third party organizations
During election season, many organizations work hard to educate and mobilize students around issues and candidates seek to make their case for election. The problem is that HBCU campuses are often not engaged until very late in the cycle, if at all.