William Harvey will always be proud of Hampton University’s standing as a historically black institution.
Founders established the school three years after the Civil War to educate former slaves and train teachers. Booker T. Washington studied there and Rosa Parks worked there.
But Harvey, Hampton’s president since 1978, is equally proud of the university’s Proton Therapy Institute, which treats cancer patients, and its 13-story Harbour Centre building that includes a $5 million weather antenna, reports Daily Press.
“The fact that we’re an HBCU is wonderful,” Harvey said. “But we happen to be an HBCU that’s one of the best modest-sized institutions in the entire country,” reports Daily Press.
Hampton announced in December it would join the Big South Conference. Its move after 23 years in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which is comprised entirely of HBCUs, became official July 1.
In the Big South, Hampton is the only institution that is not predominantly white. It is also one of two HBCUs in Division I that reside in a conference other than the MEAC or Southwestern Athletic. Tennessee State is the other.
“We’re always going to be an HBCU,” athletic director Eugene Marshall told Daily Press. “That goes without saying. But we wanted to be in the cutting edge of where conference realignment is.”
The decision drew backlash, as predicted.
“There was a small minority that didn’t want to leave and go to a quote-unquote, white conference,” Harvey said. “We didn’t look at it as a white conference. We looked at it as a conference that was better in the power rating than what we were before,” reports Daily Press.
The significance of adding an HBCU as a full member isn’t lost on Kyle Kallander, the Big South’s commissioner since 1996.
“It certainly wasn’t a primary factor in us inviting Hampton, but it’s a plus and a strength for the Big South,” he told Daily Press. “We all learn from each other, and I think having an HBCU in the league is something we can learn from. I think it’s helpful to have that exposure and have that diversity. Diversity makes us stronger. Obviously, we have diversity in the league in a number of ways, and this just helps with another dimension.”
According to Daily Press, Troy Austin, one of two African-American athletic directors in the conference along with Marshall, agrees.
“I’m an athletic director of color, and I appreciate the willingness to diversify our membership,” he said. “There should be diversity of thought and diversity of culture mixed in,” he told Daily Press. “We have institutions that are Christian affiliated. We have public institutions and private institutions. When everything fits, that’s when you get a really nice blend to help move things forward.”
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