GSE prof spotlighted at White House

When the White House was looking for an expert to speak at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week in Washington, they turned to a familiar face: Marybeth Gasman of Penn’s Graduate School of Education.


Marybeth Gasman

Candace diCarlo

When the White House was looking for an expert to speak at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week in Washington, they turned to a familiar face: Marybeth Gasman of Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

Gasman’s status as the one of the leading researchers on minority-serving institutions has earned her a share of the spotlight at the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities conference on Sept. 19 and 20.

Along with Nelson Bowman III of Prairie View A&M University in Texas, Gasman is presenting a talk called “Game Changer: Telling an HBCU Story that Changes Everything!” In their presentation, Gasman and Bowman will encourage HBCUs to take charge of their own stories and change the national narrative on these institutions. They will present alongside Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is delivering the keynote address, and President Barack Obama’s special advisor Valerie Jarrett, who will discuss the president’s goals for HBCUs.

A historian of higher education, Gasman explores philanthropy and historically black colleges and universities, black leadership, contemporary fundraising issues at black colleges and African-American giving.

“I am so honored to be presenting at this White House-sponsored event because it provides HBCUs a chance to be in the national spotlight,” says Gasman, a professor of education. “It also gives me an opportunity to share my research and ideas with those in the HBCU community and those affiliated with the White House Initiative.”

Gasman, who is white, says people sometimes ask her how she came to study HBCUs.

Her answer surprises people: Gasman’s inspiration came from her racist father. 

"My father had never met anyone who was black, yet he blamed blacks for all of his problems. They were his scapegoats,” Gasman says.

His opinions changed in her father’s later years, after he suffered a stroke and was assigned an African-American roommate in an assisted-living facility. 

“At first he screamed and hollered, but eventually he and the very patient African-American man became very good friends,” Gasman says. “My father gradually recanted all of his hatred and bigotry, admitting that he had hated blacks because he was unhappy with his lack of success and needed someone to blame.”

Her father’s deep and surprising change of heart made Gasman believe that anything was possible, and it sparked her interest in African-American history and culture.

It is in this research that one finds examples of action and persistence on the part of African-Americans, examples that counter the racist mythologies that continue to exist even today."

In her career, Gasman has authored several books, including “Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund”; Uplifting a People: African American Philanthropy and Education,” written with Kate Sedgwick; “Understanding Minority Serving Institutions,” with Benjamin Baez and Caroline Turner; and “Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Triumphs, Troubles, and Taboos,” with Christopher Tudico. She is widely quoted in the media, and blogs for the Huffington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

“I started doing this research to find out why my father was so resentful of African-Americans and to learn what I never learned growing up about black culture,” Gasman explains. “My quest to understand white racism led me to study African-American philanthropy and leadership. It is in this research that one finds examples of action and persistence on the part of African-Americans, examples that counter the racist mythologies that continue to exist even today.”

Originally published on September 19, 2011