President Joe Biden tapped two Virginia university presidents to serve on the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). On March 31, Biden announced 18 intended appointments to the board, among them Virginia State University (VSU) President Dr. Makola Abdullah and Norfolk State University (NSU) President Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D.

“The President’s Board will advance the goal of the HBCU Initiative, established by the Carter administration, to increase the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education to its students and continue serving as engines of opportunity,” a White House press release said.

Other appointments to the board include actor Taraji P. Henson, Phoenix Suns basketball player Christopher Paul, and United Airlines President Brett Hart. In a 2021 executive order, Biden announced an HBCU initiative to provide advice to the administration.

“HBCUs’ successes have come despite many systemic barriers to accessing resources and opportunities,” the order stated.

“Disparities in resources and opportunities for HBCUs and their students remain, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted continuing and new challenges. These challenges include addressing the need for enhanced physical and digital infrastructure in HBCU communities and ensuring equitable funding for HBCUs as compared to other institutions of higher education. The Federal Government must promote a variety of modern solutions for HBCUs, recognizing that HBCUs are not a monolith, and that the opportunities and challenges relevant to HBCUs are as diverse as the institutions themselves and the communities they serve,” the order continued.

VSU Assistant Vice President for Communications Gwen Williams Danbridge told The Virginia Star, “Under President Abdullah’s leadership and guidance, Virginia State University has experienced significant accomplishments. He has positioned VSU to move successfully into the next chapter in its continued growth, focusing on six strategic areas: Student Opportunity and Access, Academic Excellence, The Holistic Experience for Students, Enhancing the Land Grant Mission of the University, The VSU Brand and Financial/Operational Effectiveness.”

In 2017, Abdullah was named HBCU Male President of the Year, and in 2018, VSU was named HBCU of the year.

Under Abdullah’s leadership, the school received its largest-ever single donor gift: $30 million from MacKenzie Scott. The school’s four-year graduation rate hit the highest level in the school’s history. The school also implemented a program to provide free tuition for about 300 Pell Grant-eligible freshmen from local high schools, established the John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership to assess, develop and empower African American leaders, and established the University’s Advisory Board for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning Intersex Ally+, according to Danbridge.

President Adams-Gaston began her tenure at NSU in the summer of 2019, facing the rise of COVID-19 during her first year.

“President Adams-Gaston worked together with her team to continue to move the institution forward despite the issues created as a result of the pandemic,” Adams-Gaston’s bio reports. “This led to the university achieving multiple successes. The goals of access, opportunity, and success for NSU students remained her focus even during these unprecedented times.”

In 2021, NSU was named a U.S. News and World Report top 20 HBCU. Under Adams-Gaston, the school received its own largest single donor gift, $40 million from Scott.

The school also launched the Center for African American Public Policy, which Adams-Gaston’s bio calls “a first of its kind in Virginia which ‘serves to educate the public at large, empower minority communities and assist lawmakers on alternative ideas of how to solve issues that communities of color face.'”

“I look forward to collaborating with my fellow board members as we work to improve the outcomes for students who attend our historic institutions,” she said according to The Spartan Echo. “HBCUs were created to expand access to higher education for all, and we will work together to promote and advance the HBCU mission.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Makola Abdullah, Ph.D.” by Makola Abdullah, Ph.D. Photo “Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D.” by Norfolk State University.