HONORING BLACK HISTORY: Huston-Tillotson University

Black History Month

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As soon as you step foot on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University in east Austin, 145 years of history are on display.

Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was a Samuel Huston College instructor, basketball coach and athletic director. That was just a few years before the school merged with Tillotson College, becoming HT.  

Jackie Robinson is pictured here (second from the right) next to Dr. Karl Downs (far right). (Courtesy: Huston-Tillotson University digital archive)

Since that time, the school has awarded thousands of degrees producing politicians, scientists, authors and even a Treasurer of the United States.

(Courtesy: Joseph Mpande)

That legacy continues with computer science major Joseph Mpande who is entering the Navy. He is the current Mr. HT and tasked with representing the university throughout the year.

“HT is really a family-oriented school, it’s a fRAMily, you know everybody,” Mpande explained. “When that in-person aspect was taken away, it just, it really changed.”

Empty sidewalks and classrooms tell the story of a much different life on campus since all students are virtual. Fortunately, there were no COVID-19 cases on campus.

However, the real challenges were off campus: access to resources, computers, Wi-Fi and connectivity.

(Courtesy: Saffana Velji (right))

“We were sent tablets and we received Wi-Fi vouchers if we didn’t have access to Wi-Fi,” explained senior Saffana Velji.

Velji is a tutor, lead resident assistant, captain of the women’s soccer team and involved in various activities on campus and in the community.

She saw just how devastating the impact of COVID-19 was on all students. So she launched a scholarship to help seniors with graduation fees.

“I wanted to ensure that when you are receiving this scholarship you know that you should come back and support HT because they’ve supported us for a very long time,” said Velji.

(Courtesy: Huston-Tillotson University)

The impact is especially apparent during a global pandemic that’s affecting Black and Brown families at a disproportionate rate.

Above that, it’s also threatening the sustainability of historically black colleges and universities around the country, many of which have been completely virtual since the start of the pandemic.

“By making the decision to go virtual and this is why it was so hard, we automatically lose $1.6M for a semester from the revenue we would have gotten from our residence halls and cafeteria,” explained Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, President of Huston-Tillotson University.

The University received CARES act funding, but that funding didn’t cover all of its expenses. Dr. Pierce Burnette cut expenses without cutting staff and also launched a COVID-19 support fund.

(Courtesy: Huston-Tillotson)

The university that poured so much into the community of east Austin and beyond, was getting the support it needed to survive. Individuals, banks, churches and graduates stepped up paying balances for students and removing barriers to students’ success.

“Their [students] role as educated people is to now go sit in those seats where decisions are made, so they can be a part of change and be a part of moving that moral arc towards justice,” said Dr. Pierce Burnette.

They will do this while continuing the rich legacy of Huston-Tillotson University.

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