BY: CIARA WELLS
President Donald Trump announced his intention to lift the ban on federal funding for religiously affiliated Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) during a speech at the National HBCU Week Conference.
He said the Department of Justice (DOJ) published an opinion declaring the "discriminatory" restriction on federal funding from faith-based HBCUs to be "unconstitutional." Providing grants to religious universities has been consistently questioned for being unconstitutional, but the announced change will only allow money for "secular" building projects, in keeping with the precedent set by The Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963.
"The DOJ said government money can be used to assist HBCUs in funding capital projects that will be used for secular purposes -- while affirming that taxpayer money cannot be used to build college chapels and other facilities that have a religious purpose," Dena Sher, assistant legislative director for public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a statement.
The annual HBCU week conference brings together representatives from HBCUs nationwide and is planned under the leadership of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This year it was held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Sep. 10.
The conference was a chance for him to address college students, administrators, and community leaders, and talk about the policy changes his administration has made to improve higher education in the Black community.
However, President Trump's speech was less about the educational advances afforded to students who attend HBCUs, but more about detailing what his administration have done to prioritize HBCUs in the last three years. This follows closely behind a summer of racist attacks against several lawmakers of color, such as Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Trump spoke about signing legislation to increase federal funding for HBCUs, adding more than $100 million for scholarships, research, and centers of excellence. Trump signed an executive order to move HBCUs from under the Department of Education so they can become a federal initiative. He also said he intends to establish a President's Board of Advisors on HBCUs, though much of the administration and budgeting will remain in the Department of Education.
This public display of support for HBCUs is stark contrast to Trump's relationship with black schools just two years ago. Grambling State University president, Rick Gallot, said Trump's budget was not offering HBCUs enough relief in September 2017. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, said there was "very little listening going on," during Trump's HBCU listening session in an article from February of that year.