Howard University Professor Ericka Blount Talks About Teaching at a HBCU, During the Covid Pandemic

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By JR Valrey

Attending a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), has been a major goal and milestone for generations of Black people from the U.S., Caribbean, and all over the Black world; that are looking for skills and upward mobility, in the capitalist world order. Legendary freedom fighters like H. Rap Brown, now known as political prisoner Imam Jamil Al-Amin alongside his comrade Stokley Carmichael, made Howard University, one of academia’s political bastations of Black Power in the 60’s, which led to the two of them becoming leaders in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and later getting drafted into the Black Panther Party, among other milestones. 

Howard is known for producing some of the greatest minds, in everything from medicine to media, and I wanted the Black New World Media’s readers to get a glimpse into the thinking of my brilliant author friend Ericka Blount, who is now teaching journalism at the legendary university as a professor, during the covid pandemic. She provides a unique view on the mindset of professors at HBCUs, that have to think about their biological-safety teaching, in a post Covid pandemic world. We have heard from teachers on various local and regional levels, I thought it was about that time to tap in with our professors at the national and international level, to get their insights on the future of teaching after the pandemic. Here is Ericka Blount in her own words.  

JR Valrey: What made you want to be a professor at Howard University? And how long have you been there?

Ericka Blount: I just started this semester ,and I have always admired Howard. The only reason I didn’t go to Howard is because I wanted to get out of D.C. I remember a Nigerian cab driver told me that going to Howard, was literally every person in West Africa’s dream. 

JR Valrey: What do you teach? How long have you been teaching that and where else have you done it? 

Ericka Blount: I teach an introductory course on journalism, a magazine web editing class, and a fact-checking class. I’ve taught magazine writing, at Morgan State University and intro classes, among other classes there, for 6 years. I worked as an adjunct at Loyola University, and the University of Maryland teaching similar classes.

JR Valrey: How is teaching different, when your students are all on zoom? 

Ericka Blount: You really have to be more creative to keep them engaged. Classes are shorter. It’s not ideal, you just have to find new ways to engage. I miss in person, where it’s easier to get to know students and work with them directly. 

JR Valrey: Besides being on zoom, how is teaching in the COVID era a different experience? 

Ericka Blount: Well, I worry about everybody’s well-being. We are in really stressful times. I know if I am stressed, they are 10 times as stressed as teenagers. In some ways, it’s good because I am at home, and don’t have to worry about spending money commuting. But Covid is a daily concern. In terms of news, there’s no shortage of news for students and for me to teach. 

JR Valrey: What will make you feel safe enough as a professor to return to in-class instruction? 

Ericka Blount: That’s a great question. If they built a bubble for me. lol. I was reading that Covid is endemic, meaning that it will be around forever, like the flu. I don’t know, I stay double or triple masked up. My sister bought us some N95 masks. I won’t feel safe, if we have to return. But I may not ever feel safe again. I don’t mind wearing a mask. It helps me with my allergies and catching colds from other people. I will continue wearing them. 

JR Valrey: What kind of plans are Howard considering, to deal with this pandemic, should it be longer than this school year? 

Ericka Blount: They haven’t really said yet. I know they’re losing money by not having students in the dorms, and having the campus closed. I appreciate that they are putting the safety of students and faculty first, unlike some universities. The University of Maryland for instance has been open since last fall, and remains open. 

JR Valrey: How important is the social experience to Howard students, and how is it being affected by COVID? 

Ericka Blount: The social experience is literally everything, at Howard. That’s probably top priority in going to an HBCU – the marching bands, the fashion shows, and other events; and for students meeting their peers from around the world. I feel bad for students. My daughter is a freshman at Howard, and she’s not getting the freshman experience on zoom. 

JR Valrey: What is teaching media like, in the post-trump COVID era of fake news? How are journalism teachers seeing this new media terrain? 

Ericka Blount: This comes up in my fact-checking class; the importance of double-sourcing your stories, and how the media is not as trusted as it once was. All you can do is make sure your work is correct. In some ways all the hype around “fake news”, requires reporters to work twice as hard to be accountable to the truth. In a 24-hour news cycle, the focus can get blurred in the fight to be first.

JR Valrey: What are you working on as a writer? 

Ericka Blount: I am in the Sundance Episodic Lab, which is fun. I am working on a dramedy (comedy- drama) with my sister. A complete departure from what I’m used to. Also, finishing up a book proposal. 

JR Valrey: How do people keep up with you online? 

Ericka Blount: My best email is ericka.illafilms@gmail.com. Thank you for this!

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