In honor of Black History Month, Adams and Reese spoke with HBCU Presidents and educational leaders at our partner institutions. We discussed the opportunities they provide and integral roles they play in shaping futures of young Black leaders. Xavier University of Louisiana President and Dr. Reynold Verret is the sixth President of the only Catholic HBCU in the nation, which is quickly approaching its historic centennial in 2025.
What impact does an HBCU have on the community and young Black people in that community?
“It communicates to our younger people all the possibilities that derive from getting an education and the possibilities of doing significant things. That’s the message our young people receive before they even attend our university. HBCUs also provide a tremendous service in helping us understand what our community needs. Our faculty are diverse scholars and experts in different fields, so they are involved in the decision making and priority setting for our communities, and that’s an important piece as well.”
What does your role as an HBCU President and educational leader mean to you?
“Our purpose is to prepare young people to be agents of change, agents of service, and agents of goodness. I am able to facilitate and make possible the success of many bright, young people - not only our students but our faculty as well. The analogy I use is the player living vicariously through his team’s success, either by coaching or captaining a team. He or she may have played and contributed, but is taking that step back, recognizing the whole of the team’s accomplishments and an ability to contribute in a greater sense and bringing good for people and community.”
What has had the biggest impact personally and/or professionally in your career?
“The satisfaction of seeing success has been my biggest impact. That feeling goes back to when I was a teacher – seeing the faces of students living with purpose and achieving their goals – there’s nothing more satisfying to an educator.”
Who is your hero and/or biggest influence?
“My mother and father gave me permission to be who I am. When I said I wanted to do science, they patted me on the head and said OK, even though I was destroying our house on some days with experiments. But it was their encouragement, and the permission to try and achieve. I found that same trait in a number of teachers and mentors I’ve had over the years, including the professor who gave me an ‘F’ in art class. He said ‘Mr. Verret, you have a many gifts, but art is not one of them.’ I always laugh about that. But I have had a lot of influencers who have helped shape who I am.”
What special meaning does Black History Month have for you?
“The nation recognizes the significant place that descendants of Africans have in this country, and that has not always been acknowledged. Black History is not just the history of Black people in the United States. It’s also the history of all America and speaks to what I call the American Project – recognizing all people who have made America possible and worth in remembering everyone’s contributions. We have made great progress and have come far as a country, but we are not done yet.”
About Xavier University of Louisiana: Located in New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana is a nationally recognized leader in the STEM and health sciences fields, producing more African American students who graduate from medical school than any other university in the United States. Its College of Pharmacy is also among the top producers of African American pharmacists. Approaching a historic centennial, Xavier University of Louisiana promises to press forward and fear nothing as it marks a century of eXcellence.
Established in 1925 by Saint Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament as a place for African American and Native Americans to receive quality education, the institution has since extensively expanded its programs in the sciences and liberal arts. More recent additions in robotics, bioinformatics, engineering, data science, neuroscience and genetics, in addition to new STEM-based master’s programs, have provided Xavier students (2,693 undergraduates, 205 graduates and 518 College of Pharmacy students) an unbeatable combination of traditional classroom study, hands-on research, service-learning opportunities and life experiences.
Xavier students collaborate with world-renowned faculty, who are experts in their fields, to produce award-winning research and notable work. The winning Xavier University of Louisiana formula is to provide students with a well-balanced curriculum and an environment that nurtures their intellect and feeds their souls, thereby facilitating a more just and humane society for all.
Xavier University of Louisiana was recently recognized as the number one HBCU for upward mobility (UNCF 2022) and as the top HBCU for students’ 15, 30, and 40-year return on investment. Xavier also reported as offering the highest financial payoff for Black graduates (OnlineU, 2022). In January 2023, Xavier University of Louisiana and Ochsner Health announced an agreement to establish a College of Medicine to address disparities in representation of Black physicians in the United States.
About Dr. Reynold Verret: Prior to serving as Xavier University of Louisiana’s President, Dr. Verret served as provost at Savannah State University and at Wilkes University; dean of arts and sciences at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia; and as faculty in Chemistry at Tulane University and also at Clark Atlanta University. He is a biochemist and immunologist.
Throughout his career, he has dedicated efforts to increase the number of students, especially those from underrepresented groups, pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines, encouragement in continuing to advanced study, and mitigating the shortage of qualified STEM teachers. Dr. Verret is at the forefront of the initiative to establish a College of Medicine at Xavier University of Louisiana with Ochsner Health. He has served on many professional organizations and advisory bodies, including those of the National Institutes of Health and the Board of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. A native of Haiti, Dr. Verret received his undergraduate degree cum laude in biochemistry from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the laboratory of the late Har Gobind Khorana.