Historically Black Women’s College Fights to Keep Its Doors Open

For nearly 150 years, Bennett College has been educating young black women on its historic campus in Greensboro, North Carolina. Now, as one of the two remaining historically black all-women’s colleges, Bennett is fighting to keep its doors open in the face of closure.

Image courtesy of Bennett College

A December 9 decision by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) announced that Bennett would lose its accreditation, citing their lack of financial resources. Bennett immediately appealed the decision and will remain accredited through the appeal process.

Before their appeals deadline in February, the college aims to raise $5 million as part of their #StandWithBennett campaign. The college hopes that the fundraising will demonstrate increased financial stability to the SACSCOC. Through a viral social media campaign and appeals to prominent organizations, foundations, alumni, and celebrities, Bennett College has raised 55% of its goal. This Thursday, the college announced that it had received two $500,000 donations from the Papa John’s Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, bumping up their fundraising by $1 million in just one day.

The #StandWithBennett campaign has largely spurred forward by students on social media. Associate Professor of Journalism at Bennett says that students are carrying on with campus life while also working to save the college. “I think they understand the parts that they can control and the parts that are sort of out of their hands,” he told Her Campus. “I feel like they're helping where they can.” His journalism students have been using their closeness to the story to tell the stories of Bennet students and cover the campaign from the inside.

Some students at Agnes Scott can’t help but make comparisons between Bennett’s impending closure and the near closure of Sweet Briar College in 2015 due to “insurmountable financial challenges.” After Sweet Briar’s announcement that it would close in August of 2018, Agnes Scott and many other women’s colleges accommodated transfer students from Sweet Briar and advocated strongly for its campaigns to stay open.

Acacia Salisbury, a senior at Agnes Scott, expressed her frustrations with the differences between Sweet Briar and Bennett’s fundraising campaigns in an open letter. In the letter she recalls the surge of support for Sweet Briar in 2015, writing, “I have to wonder where the same support is for Bennett College,” and explaining how she sees race as a factor in why Sweet Briar was able to raise vast amounts of money in comparison to Bennett.

“I wonder where the women’s colleges and their many alumnae who rallied around Sweet Briar are when this historically black women’s college is struggling to keep their accreditation,” she writes in the letter.

Bennett has also been noted for the opportunities it provides its students post-graduation. The New York Times reports that Bennett graduates rank 30th out of 578 selective private colleges in their likelihood of moving up two or more income quintiles after graduating.

Bennett has a strong legacy of notable black alumni and campus visitors, including Dr. Willa B. Player, Bennett’s 10th president and the first black woman in America to be president of a four-year, accredited institution. Dr. Dorothy Brown ‘41 was the first woman to practice general surgery in the south and would go on the become chief of surgery at Northside Hospital in Nashville. Hideco Tamura-Snider ‘56 serves as the Ambassador of Peace for the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Many Bennett alumnae also participated in the historic lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro on February 1, 1960. The college has also hosted public figures such as James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. as visitors.

Even with its prominence one of the last remaining women’s HBCU’s, Bennett’s campaign has gained very little media attention. With only a few days left, the college must raise over $2 million to reach its goal.

The thing I've been most proud of,” says Professor Lipscomb, “is the way that some of my students have rallied around the college and they have used some of their social media skills to sort of rally support for the college.”

Visit the #StandWithBennett webpage to learn more about the campaign and how to donate.