On Feb. 26, 2010, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order reauthorizing the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges. I, one of several members of the newly appointed White House Advisory Board on HBCUs, was standing on stage with President Obama to witness the signing. This thrilling moment was made even more special because I shared it with Spelman alumna and current trustee Evelynn Hammonds, C’ 76, also appointed to the advisory board. While we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, Evelynn and I stood together in the Red Room of the White House, imagining what the Spelman founders, Miss Harriet E. Giles and Miss Sophia B. Packard, would say if they could see us there.
Reflecting on the occasion, Evelyn later wrote in a message to me, “I always thought those women who led Spelman in its earliest days and in its darkest days were truly visionary – who really believed that African-American women could be leaders? Who really believed that an institution for African-American women could become a beacon for women who are not of African descent? Who really believed that one day you and I would be standing with the president of the United States in the White House? And yet, the leaders of Spelman did believe it was possible, and now we can help make it possible for the generations to come after us.”
Evelynn’s words are a powerful reminder of the responsibility we all share to ensure that Spelman College has the resources it needs to achieve its mission as the global leader in the education of women of African descent, dedicated to academic excellence and the development of the intellectual, creative, ethical and leadership potential of every young woman who enters our gates. Unlike in 1881 when Black women were among the least likely to be educated, today young African-American women represent the fastest-growing segment of the college-going population, though economic barriers remain an impediment to their progress.
Based on current demographic trends among college-age students, the percentage of low-income African-American female students attending college is expected to rise. We have already seen evidence of that growth at Spelman. During the past five years, the percentage of Pell-grant eligible students enrolled at Spelman has increased from approximately 30 percent to now more than 40 percent. Though our scholarship assistance (largely supported by our endowment) has doubled from $4.5 million in 2001 to $9 million in 2010, we are still only able to meet about 25 percent of the demonstrated student need.
It is for this reason that The Campaign for Spelman College is so critical to our ability to continue to realize the enduring Spelman vision of transforming lives and communities by educating talented and dynamic women who are making a choice to change the world. As we celebrate the 129th anniversary of the founding of Spelman College, let us claim our power to realize the vision of our Founders beyond what they could even imagine – providing a world-class education without barriers for a future without limits. We must not settle for anything less. – Beverly Daniel Tatum is the president of Spelman College.