Nelms argues for inter-univ collaboration

NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms addressed present problems facing historically black colleges and universities and the need for inter-university collaboration and student community during his appearance at Duke yesterday.

Race relations continue to influence politics and society on multiple levels, he said, including at North Carolina Central University, a public HBCU located in Durham.

“[HBCUs] were designed to have less than other institutions—you can’t undo the 80 years during which [they] didn’t have as much funding,” Nelms said. “Even though the social landscape has changed... America has not dealt successfully with the issue of race.”

A college student during the civil rights era, Nelms insisted on the need for leadership to rest on an understanding of personal heritage. Acknowledging the setting of the discussion—the Duke Chapel—he then maintained that religious language can be used to understand the process of social change.

“Race is a part of our contemporary history, but we don’t always see it,” Nelms said, noting the similarity of racial awareness to religious experience. Each process, he maintained, is one of “conversion, in which people come to see things differently and know that they need to make things better.”

The public event was the second installment of the Dean’s Dialogue series titled “Listening to the Heart of Durham.” The events are a series of public conversations between Dean of the Chapel Sam Wells and academic deans at Duke or members of the greater Durham community.

Last week’s talk with Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez began the dialogue series with a discussion of poverty, immigration reform and Duke-Durham relations—themes yesterday’s event continued to examine.

Referring to racism as a “present-tense issue,” Wells asked Nelms for his response to an increasing Latino immigrant population in North Carolina.

“Here in Durham, we have enough of a diverse population we can build on,” Nelms said. “We need to employ that diversity to attack some of the issues of under-attainment and poverty.”

Toward the end of the discussion, both academic leaders acknowledged the need for collaboration between universities.

“We both have civic engagement as a part of our mission,” said Nelms. “How can we do that in a more collaborative kind of fashion, where it is better resourced, and it is more sustainable?”

Peggy Whiting, NCCU professor of education, said she appreciated the discussion’s focus on inter-university cooperation.

“The takeaway for me was an invitation to collaborate... to do our part in forwarding collaboration and understanding and social action,” Whiting said.

Because this Fall’s dialogues are focused on Durham issues, Wells stressed the need for Duke students to become more critically engaged in their local community. “There’s something glamorous about traveling around the world to ask questions whose answers lie perhaps two miles away,” Wells said.

He commented tongue-in-cheek on the low turnout of the event—roughly 30 community members as well as students and faculty from Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill attended.

“And the irony is that we try pretty hard to maintain a relationship with NCCU by arranging these expensive events that aren’t usually full,” Wells said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name and location of the college at which Nelms works. It is North Carolina Central University, in Durham.


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