A Purdue University artist-in-residence and a Middle Tennessee State University grad student have conflicting ideas on how Black students such as themselves should be educated — adding fuel to the PWI (Predominately White Institutions) vs. HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) debate.
In a letter to the Tennessee-based Daily News Journal, MTSU student Joshua Crutchfield wrote on April 9 that he has grown tired of the battle with university officials. These battles have been over monuments on school grounds honoring the failed and racist history of the Confederacy.
In the letter, Crutchfield discussed the long history of Black student protesters at the school fighting to remove the relics from the campus. Many of the protests he mentions began in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement.
Currently, students are trying to remove the name of Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the school’s ROTC building.
Forrest was a ruthless leader who fought in some of the Civil War’s most grueling battles, including Shiloh, Chickamauga, Brice’s Crossroads and Second Franklin. About Forrest and his legacy, Crutchfield wrote:
“From our perspective, it makes little sense that we are still engaged in a fight that should have been over decades ago. And to be clear: as a historian, this battle is less about history and more about the right of a few to desperately hold on to a legacy and heritage that valorizes a time when my ancestors were deemed less than human.”
He goes on to state that protesting and “begging” is not worth the time and effort of the many Black students at the school:
“Black students make of [sic] 20 percent of the undergraduate population at MTSU. One in five undergraduates at MTSU are Black students. And I think they should all transfer to an HBCU.”
Crutchfield believes that HBCUs will cater to the needs of Black intellectuals.
“At an HBCU, students may experience a different set of challenges, but they don’t experience challenges that question their very humanity,” he wrote.
His view contrasts starkly with those of Purdue artist-in-residence James Dekle, who graduated from Florida A & M and loved his time at the historical Black college. Now, he is at the forefront of a Purdue diversity push that could threaten Black enrollment at many HBCUs.
This new initiative announced this week — the Purdue Express — will hopefully attract minority students through a theatrical and entertaining show.
“Have you ever looked at every page of great information on Purdue.edu?” Dekle said. “Most of us have not, for various reasons. We typically look for what we need, find it and move on. But what about all of the resources this top-tier university provides? I believe that presenting awesome information about Purdue University in an entertaining show will ultimately enhance the recruitment experience.”
The school currently has several diversity programs, such as a graduate faculty diversity ambassador program that reaches out to HBCUs. They hope to cross-train and recruit Black graduates to the school.
While Crutchfield is combating institutionalized racism on his campus, Dekle is helping diversify a predominately white institution.