INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Historically Black or predominantly Black institutions for centuries have been safe spaces for students of color.
Although Black people are no longer barred from attending certain universities, Martin University and other colleges still play a major role in helping students find themselves and their voices.
News 8’s Katiera Winfrey explained in Friday night’s We Stand Together report.
When Martin University opened in 1977, outside its walls, America was in the middle of an ongoing fight for civil rights. Nearly 45 years later that fight continues. Sean Huddleston is the university president. He said, when it opened, students began transferring from predominately white universities where they felt they didn’t belong and the impact of segregation. This campus, became a safe place.
Huddleston: Institutions of higher education have always been a place where civil discourse and intellectual debate happen. And minorities serving institutions, HBCUs in predominantly black institutions it really is the strengthening and unification of voices to address issues that have been long-standing and pervasive and cause inequities. So we take the protests that are happening around the country for example. And the mantra focus is on black lives matter. Absolutely it should be there. These are happening because black people are being brutally and unjustly murdered. So we’re focused now on people understanding that the mortality of black people in this country is valid and important and should matter to everyone. But the other side of that is the livelihood of black people. So black lives matter but black livelihood matters as well. And that’s making sure the black people have the opportunity to thrive and succeed in this society just like everybody else. But in order to do that we absolutely have to address the inequities. Those things that make people Black people in particular not start from the same line as everybody else. So Black Lives Matter but black livelihood matter too.
Winfrey: And to hear you say that again it takes me back to the governor citing that same quotation from you. What do you say to people in power to behoove them or encourage them to also open their eyes and look at their statement and try to do something to make that a reality?
Huddleston: I think that people in power, I think that they focus on equality. They really fundamentally believe that everyone should have the same opportunities. But you get to equality we have to address equity issues first. So the assumption that people are starting from the same point and therefore you use the same treatment on the issues based on the fact that there’s this kind of standard starting point is in an inaccurate assumption. We’ve got to address the inequities in order to get to that point of a quality. So people who do have the opportunity, the authority, the ownership and the authorship, to be able to make changes they’ve got to take a strong focus on helping to close those gaps by eradicating the barriers that cause those gaps in the first place.
Winfrey: And the university sits in a predominantly black neighborhood or what would be considered a lower income neighborhood. Talk about how that played into who Martin University is in the works you all do outside of education.
Huddleston: So I’ll say fundamentally Martin University is a “comm” university. That means that we are in, of and for the community. Martindale Brightwood is where we sit and we focus our attention here. This as you indicated is one of the more disadvantage neighborhoods in the area. But there are many neighborhoods in Central Indiana that are like Martindale Brightwood. So our goal is to try to not just address the changes that need to occur here, but also create models that other neighborhoods like Martindale Brightwood can follow. So to be a “comm” university means we have to see ourselves as an anchor institution that help to address issues like poverty, and health disparities, and unemployment, and other things through the access to education. But also congregating and aggregating resources and support invoices that can help address all of those other things so that we can pull many levers to solve and eradicate those equity gaps that exist.
In January, the university is launching it’s Center for Racial Equity and inclusion.