NEA Honors Black History Month
Well-known labor economist, commentator, and former college president, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, is an outspoken champion for progressive issues. Described by Cornell West as the "most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country." Malveaux talks with NEA about the intersection of education, race, and economics.
NEA: You’ve been described as an academic and an activist. People often think of those as two separate identities.
JM: I always saw myself as a scholar and an activist. Even though I was one of those kids who loved school and read everything I could get my hands on, I was also very political. If there was a rally or march, I was there. When I first read about W.E.B. Dubois, I literally fell in love with him because he was the embodiment of a scholar and activist.
NEA: What was the coolest aspect of being president of the nation’s oldest historically Black college for women?
JM: Education is a transformative experience. Watching the evolution of Bennett's students from freshman to senior year was extraordinarily rewarding. That first year, you see a fresh-faced, awkward, gawky girl, and by the time she graduates she’s a confident young woman. The woman you are meets the woman you’re supposed to be.
NEA: What's the main challenge faced by today's Black students—the ones you encountered at Bennett and Black students in different circumstances?
JM: There are multiple challenges: Access—college is increasingly unaffordable and financial resources are harder to come by. Preparation—some young people who come from inner-city backgrounds haven't had sufficient challenges to allow their brains to soar. Stereotyping—the stereotyping of Blacks, especially young men, is oppressive, particularly when young people start to buy into it. Family finances—I've seen good students flounder when they're tugged in different directions by family obligations. Finally—there’s the whole issue of encouragement from a class perspective. Many African—American college students are first generation. Their parents may not have a clue what their kids are going through, and their friends may label them "bugie" [bourgeois]. There has to be an external source pushing them. The great thing about HBCUs is you have a community of people pushing you.
NEA: Given these challenges, what's the most important action educators can take to ensure ethnic-minority students survive and thrive?
JM: Educators need to be extraordinarily sensitive to the young people who come into their schools. You don’t know what kind of diamond you have in the rough. Make a vow you’re going to transform the lives of these students because that's what education does. When you look at the whole notion of a differential, where does the difference come from? Who’s measuring and by what measurement? I reject the statistics that diminish Black students. There's always brilliance to be found in every human being.
Read Dr. Malveaux’s weekly columns at www.jualiannemalveaux.com.