MLA 2024: The Burden and Privilege of HBCU Graduate Students in the Anti-CRT Era

deadline for submissions: 
March 25, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Austin Anderson / Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) serve a vital function within academia, particularly for the predominantly Black student body that these historic institutions serve. There are at least 74 HBCUs that offer degrees in English, Languages, or Literature, including 10 HBCUs that offer Master or Doctoral degrees in these subjects. Some of the leading scholars of our disciplines graduated from HBCUs with at least “9 percent of full-time Black faculty earned their doctorate degrees from HBCUs [with] more than half returning to HBCUs as faculty members” (Perna, 2001). These graduate programs excel at producing scholars interested in African American literature, Caribbean literature, and African diasporic literature, and in an era when studying race and advocating for racial justice are increasingly marginalized by conservative-controlled states, HBCUs provide a safe space for graduate students advocating for equity. Research has shown that HBCU graduate programs have a greater focus on communalism and mentorship than PWIs (Robert T. Palmer et al. 2016), and HBCU graduate programs have significantly more diverse faculty than PWIs (Gasman, Lundy-Wagner, Ransom, & Bowman, 2010; Gasman et al., 2013). At their best, HBCU graduate programs are institutions of cultural empowerment that advocate for Black liberation and racial equity. 

Despite the vital function that HBCUs serve, “HBCUs are chronically underfunded due to state underinvestment, lower alumni contributions (related to lower Black incomes and Black wealth), and lower endowments” (Brookings, 2021). Additionally, HBCUs have been threatened by acts of racist violence such as the ongoing issue of bomb threats against at least 57 different HBCUs since 2022.  The goal of this panel is to shine a light on the invaluable role that HBCUs play in the modern academic landscape while also acknowledging the unique challenges that HBCU graduate students experience. 

We seek short 5-7 minute panel presentations from current HBCU graduate students or HBCU alumni followed by a round table discussion to highlight the vital role that HBCUs play within the academic community. We ask for abstracts that contend with, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • What types of communities are fostered in HBCU graduate programs? 

  • What role do HBCU graduate programs play in addressing structural racism and anti-Blackness? 

  • What can HBCUs teach the broader academic community about race?

  • How does chronic underfunding of HBCUs contribute to the lack of diversity within the academy? 

  • How do racist violent threats against HBCUs impact the mental health and well-being of the graduate community? 

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words and a brief biography of no more than 150 words to Austin Anderson ( Deadline for submission: 25 March 2023. All participants must be MLA members by 7 April 2023.