President Joe Biden capped off last week’s 2021 National HBCU Conference week by making a commitment to HBCUs as they addressed COVID-19 protocols at their institutions. Part of that commitment was assembling an advisory board of HBCU presidents, educators, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs to make recommendations on how institutions will continue to navigate the pandemic. Dr. Cameron Webb, White House Senior Policy Advisor on COVID-19 Equity says this is simply a matter of “following the science”.
“The science is pretty clear. The science says that layered mitigation strategies, which include masking, social distancing, hand washing, avoiding crowded spaces, and vaccinations, are the key to preventing illness and hospitalization,” he said. “So what this administration is doing is empowering educational entities to just follow the science.”
Several Republican governors have threatened litigation against the Biden administration for its vaccine and testing mandates calling it “an overreach” and “federal intrusion”. This could adversely affect HBCUs located in red states. Webb says that despite the pushback, the Biden administration will protect them.
“For entities that are trying to follow the science, we’re going to protect them and their students,” he said. “If your state is telling you you can’t have a mask mandate, we’re going to pursue every avenue through the law to protect you and your students from getting sick. This shouldn’t be political.”
Webb says that, in fact, there have been some Republican leaders who have reversed course and supported mask mandates.
“Truth is, you’ve got to have a ‘true North’. You’ve got to have something to guide you in your decision making,” Webb added. “And, for some people, it’s politics. And that’s unfortunate. Because this virus isn’t political.”
Trey Baker, Senior Advisor for Public Engagement at the White House and graduate of Tougaloo College, says this administration is committed to making sure schools stay open and make technical improvements for virtual learning if necessary.
“There’s a lot of funds available to schools so they can have the resources to do for themselves,” he said. “My alma mater, Tougaloo College, used some of those funds to upgrade their tech infrastructure. Others are using funds to put vaccination centers on campuses.”
Dr. Webb says a huge part of the HBCU experience is Fall football and homecomings. With big gatherings coming up, he says, it’s important that people act now.
“Think about this. It’s three weeks between the two doses and two weeks after that is when you’re fully vaccinated. Then think about when you’re going to be in spaces that are crowded,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re protected. So, if you’re talking about a homecoming that’s in October, now is the time. It’s not magic. You have to make that investment ahead of time.”