Howard University celebrated its homecoming this past week. Unlike many other schools across the nation, theirs was unique: Howard ended its festivities with a Presidential Party, an event in which the president of the university is actually present and approachable. From 7 p.m. until 2 a.m., the HBCU hosted its second presidential soiree on Oct. 22 at the Newseum.
I started my elegant night at the buffet line where I fixed myself a plate. Part of it housed fancy greens and ziti; the rest I couldn’t recognize. I brought my exotic meal to a lonesome cocktail table which remained so—that was until a lady joined me. Her identity would soon reveal itself; I spent most of my night partnered alongside the president’s wife, Mrs. Simone Frederick.
Three Howard alumni came over too. They and the First Lady all hail from Trinidad. Throughout the night we joked.
The party had yet to begin, though. The first two hours were for the private networking of VIP donors.
This was when I interviewed President Frederick, who related to the event on a personal level. He started the soiree last year in an attempt to add transparency to the inner doings of Howard, and promote an interactive environment. He recalled his own experience as a Howard student, and how in absence of opportunity, he never met his president.
Dr. Frederick’s student experience is not unique. And when the student does get a chance to meet his president, it’s often brief and superficial.
Brendan Sullivan, a sophomore at this university, met President Loh at a crowded event hosted in his dorm building during finals week. Sullivan described the interaction as “no more than a handshake.”
“Loh keeps a low profile on campus and tends to keep his interactions very well-coordinated,” he said.
President Loh can be seen speaking at certain special honorary events. His Twitter photos suggest that he also frequents school sporting events and community activities such as the university’s Family Weekend. But these tend to be in a cameo-like fashion, an opportunity to show face more than anything else.
Recently, The Diamondback reported that Loh fails to meet with the permanent president diversity commissions. He defended his inaction saying, “If I start getting into the weeds in any given area … then I’m not doing my job.”
He continued, “There are members of my cabinet of my cabinet who have [a] responsibility for that.”
To appear fair, he practices “self-governance” and focuses on the “big picture,” the article reports.
A member of the university’s ethnic minority issues commission, Nancy Grigsby, said, “The administration is very receptive, but it could be more responsive.”
Sophomore Vanessa Herrera has never met President Loh. She said “that there are opportunities to meet President Loh, but they aren’t publicized as much as they should be.” She believes smaller events “where students are able to talk one-on-one with President Loh” will allow opportunity for more meaningful, resonating meet-and-greets.
“Having a clear, consistent channel of communication with students would strengthen the sense of trust between officials and students,” she said.
Lauryn Froneberger, president of this campus’s NAACP chapter said: ”I want to see a more human side of the administration. I want to know who is in charge of the university, and I don’t feel like I do.”
A more present Loh will help give Maryland that same familial setting that I experienced during my night with Howard. All students should have the opportunity to know what their president looks and sounds like. His presence and transparency will invoke unity, belonging, and pride. When this happens, I will feel more resolute when I call myself a Terp. I will stand certain, feeling a personal connection to the school at which my parents pay tuition.
Until then, I wait.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Josh on Flickr.
Marcus Ford is a freshman multi-platform journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.