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Howard’s 18th President, Dr. Ben Vinson, Unveils His Daring Plan to Move the HBCU Forward. (448 hits)

WASHINGTON — It’s a new era at Howard University.

On Saturday, the school community gathered to celebrate the institution’s 18th president, as Dr. Ben Vinson III shared his vision during his official inauguration.

But before the formal activities began, WUSA9 anchor, and Howard alum, Lesli Foster talked with President Vinson about his plans to move Howard forward. Foster met the new president at the picturesque black gates on campus and ventured out to walk in the footsteps of great leaders who emerged from this beacon on hilltop high.

“If you look across the yard, you can kind of imagine Thurgood Marshall, you can imagine Alain Locke, Toni Morrison - all of the people who have graced the yard of Howard University,” said President Vinson.

But there was something else roaming this yard, steeped with history: robots.

“I have to say, when I looked at them initially, I thought whoa, what’s going on," Foster remarked to Vinson.

“This is a high tech 21st century campus," Vinson said laughing. "This is part of what it means now to be a student."

Part of what it means to be the president here now is to embrace these changes all while continuing to spearhead solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing students and the broader community.

“There are so many things that are happening in our society, so many changes as they pertain to artificial intelligence, as they pertain to computer science, data science, the intersection of ethics with emerging technology, as well as movement in the law,” Vinson said. “These are areas where we really need a voice, a special voice, that voice that Howard University can give - really talking about issues of social justice and equity in these emerging fields.”

President Vinson has been on the job for just a few months now. So, he’s just beginning to articulate his vision for the Mecca.

He shared that framework in an office within Founders Library, which holds significance for him as a leader of this storied institution.

“Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, who was the first African-American president at Howard University, actually worked here," Vinson said. "I gotta say, I’m really giddy about this because it’s my first time stepping into this office."

Unlike most presidents of HBCU’s, Vinson did not graduate from one. He was most recently the provost and executive vice president of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

When asked how he planned to navigate the contours of an educational institution with a huge cultural legacy, but without all the resources he was used to at previous institutions where he served, he talked about timing.

"Howard University at this particular time is my callin," Vinson said. "It is the place where I feel I need to be. It is the place where I feel I can pull together everything that I’ve learned, everything I’ve done and contribute back in a way that resonates with the vision.”

Vinson expanded further about the connections he’s sought to cement with other historically black colleges and institutions during his academic career.

“I have actually participated in other institutions and building connections with HBCU’s," he said. "And it has been very important to me in my journey, institutions like GW, at Hopkins, at Case Western Reserve. So I’ve always been in the HBCU conversation, although I have not necessarily been at an HBCU.”

Vinson lead a strategic initiative called "Think Big" at Case Western. He hopes to bring the mindset of what he calls “Howard at Maximum Strength” to his tenure.

“Howard at Maximum Strength means making sure that we’re taking care of all of us, that we’re making sure that our staff, that our faculty, that our students are able to excel and be their best selves," Vinson explained. "That means, we must have the operating of this institution as sound as it can be."

Vinson also highlighted the need to focus on safety at an HBCU. This year, several institutions, including Howard, have dealt with violence on campus.

“Safety is a top priority at an urban institution and it is one for Howard University,” Vinson said. “We’re making sure that our partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department, for instance, is as strong as it can be. We’re also increasing the way we use technology as an intervention to improve safety on campus. That includes cameras, robots, and also our students have something called a 'Peace of Mind' device. And it is a small round device where if there’s an incident or if a student needs help, they can press that button and get almost an instant response.”

Howard’s newest president, historian and tenured professor loves to connect with students and learn about their passions. The day WUSA9 visited, he stopped to talk to students on campus and learn what their plans were at Howard, including a student who planned to go to nursing school after graduation to become a pediatric nurse.

Vinson discovered his own interest in Afro-Mexican history in a college classroom. As the nation grapples with what part of the American story should be taught, he believes truth ought to be at the center of it.

“Howard has always been an institution that has prided itself on being able to interpret the journey of the Black experience and that it comes with pain, it comes with tribulation," he said. "It comes with milestones and it comes with a real penetrating gaze at what America is."

And, he’s already looking toward the future.

“Howard in the future is going to be a greater place," the new president said. "It’s going to be more true than ever to its mission. And, it’s going to really be a unifier and hopefully an emblem and a symbol for this American experiment.”

This fall, President Vinson is going on a listening tour. He’ll hear from students, staff, faculty and the University community about opportunities and challenges going forward. He also wants to building stronger ties with other Historically Black Colleges and Universities to continue to tackle hard problems.

Posted By: Sofía Montiel
Wednesday, November 8th 2023 at 11:42AM
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