In this week’s episode of Past Present, Neil, Natalia, and Niki debate historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the Rebecca Tuvel controversy, and commencement speeches.
Donald Trump recently suggested that a federal program that finances construction projects on historically black college and university campuses may be unconstitutional. But a few days later, he expressed “unwavering support” for HBCUs. Natalia observed Trump’s various moves to reach out to African Americans followed an Obama presidency that was often criticized for not reaching out to African Americans enough, something that the former president acknowledged in David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of him. Natalia also recommended Catharine Stimpson’s Public Books essay on how Trump looks to steer federal education funding to conservative Christian universities. Niki noted that in his book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates discussed how attending Howard University had uniquely shaped his life, something many graduates of HBCUs have argued. Neil drew parallels between the history of HBCUs and women’s colleges, and Natalia recommended Nancy Weiss Malkiel’s book, “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation, which traces the history of how elite universities opened their doors to women.
The philosophy professor Rachel Tuvel published an article in the feminist journal Hypatia that explored how arguments about transgender and transracial identities illuminate the logics behind how we think about identity. The article provoked great controversy, including an open letter condemning the article and an apology from Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors. Tuvel has also earned her defenders, including Kelly Oliver writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Natalia commented on how conservatives, including David French at National Review, have viewed the controversy as the latest excess of campus liberalism.
What’s Making History
- Neil discussed the killing of Jordan Edwards and the history of police shooting into moving vehicles.
- Niki talked about the firing of FBI director James Comey and comparisons to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre.