By Cash Michaels –
As the nation surpasses six million cases of COVID-19 and North Carolina over 167,000, major universities like UNC, Duke, and NC State that recently reopened are forced to rethink strategies to cope with growing clusters of infected students.
The state’s HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) have also had to find new ways to manage their students’ exposure to the virus.
How have they done?
Most of North Carolina’s eleven HBCUs have strict health protocols for students and staff for in-person instruction, if they’re open at all. Masks and social distancing are required. International study has been suspended, and where online instruction can be implemented for at least part of the fall semester, it is.
These schools are forced to operate amid unstable health environments in cities and counties that are themselves struggling to stem the spread. So why open at all?
Even before the pandemic, many of these small private institutions were in desperate need of revenue that only maximum student enrollments could bring. Not having students on campus now threatens that prospect—not being able to charge for dorm rooms, activities, sports, books, food, etc.—thus forcing these schools to manage as best they can during a health crisis none of them were prepared for.
Thus, for HBCUs like Livingstone, Shaw, and St. Augustine’s, some requirements are the availability of coronavirus testing; access to PPE (personal protective equipment); promotion of proper personal hygiene practices; setting aside space for quarantining students and staff who may have been exposed; appropriate cleaning and sterilization of facilities; and adequate medical resources to accurately assess the level of on-campus infection. Such obligations will exist until the pandemic is officially deemed to be under control in the larger local community.
Add to that the fact that African Americans have a disproportionate prevalence to COVID-19 infection (Blacks comprise 24% of NC cases), and it is not at all beyond possibility that several small Black institutions might not survive the pandemic due to economic pressures, say education experts.
And yet, as of Monday, the number of cases on North Carolina HBCU campuses has been relatively small compared to their larger counterparts.
Barber-Scotia College in Concord had a stark message on its website for this semester from its president, Melvin Douglass. “At this time, the Barber-Scotia College’s administrative team is requesting that faculty, students and staff, with the exception of essential staff, refrain from visiting the campus unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed. Thanks for understanding our desire to safeguard your health and comply with the state of emergency plan.”
Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte has adopted remote online instruction for the fall semester. The school had originally planned to reopen campus after it shut down in the spring.
Bennett College for Women in Greensboro has also decided not to reopen its campus.
Larger state-supported HBCUs like NCCU, Winston-Salem State University, NC A&T, Fayetteville State, and Elizabeth City State University face many of the same COVID-19 pressures as do their smaller counterparts, and by order of the UNC Board of Governors, have had to drastically cut their budgets because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At NC A&T University in Greensboro, rapid testing is now available for students as they become better oriented to the new safety requirements of living and learning on-campus. A new app to track and trace COVID-19 is supposed to be ready via the NC Dept. of Health this month. With only 16 reported cases so far, the school is ready if the pandemic spreads across campus.
“We have policies that would allow us to refund students’ tuition, fees, housing, and dining within the normal policies of our university,” Chancellor Harold Martin told a local television station.
At NCCU in Durham, the football team is where COVID-19 has reared its head. Officials have isolated infected students, and the school is working with the local county health department to confirm the cluster (defined as at least five cases). All students who live in residence halls continue to be tested, and the university contracts with a local third-party vendor for all its testing, tracing and consultation needs.