Elizabeth City State University: Viking Pride is small but mighty

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Elizabeth City State University: Viking Pride is small but mighty
Not far from the Pasquotank River in northeast North Carolina is a historically Black university that often gets overlooked.

Not far from the Pasquotank River in northeast North Carolina is a historically Black university that often gets overlooked. Elizabeth City State University is home to the Vikings, where pride runs deep and the feeling of family is all around.

"It made me a better person," said class of 1986 graduate Tony Lassiter. "If it wasn't for Elizabeth City State University, I don't think I would be the person I am today because of the impact it had on my life mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially."

ECSU was birthed following House Bill 383 from North Carolina representative Hugh Cale under the name Elizabeth City State Colored Normal School. When the school officially became a college in 1939, its name was changed to Elizabeth City State Teacher's College. It wasn't until 1969 that the school officially became Elizabeth City State University -- several years after receiving accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Throughout the years, the school would largely attract teachers and educators; as referenced in the school's name.

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As Charlotte grows and gentrifies, the students and staff hope to play a lead role in keeping the legacy of the university, built by formerly enslaved people, alive.

That reputation continues today.

Joshua Cox is an undergraduate student at ECSU and hails from Bridgetown, Barbados -- some 1,900 miles away. He is studying biology with a concentration in early childhood education. His goal is to eventually become a pediatrician.

In addition to homework and attending class, or hanging with his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers, Cox serves as the current Mr. ECSU.

On the royal court with him is Diamond Rawlinson as Miss ECSU.

"Going to an HBCU is the best decision I ever made," said Rawlinson. "This is definitely where I found my purpose; which is serving and helping others."

In 2014, North Carolina state legislators put together a bill that would have closed the school because enrollment was dropping and the institution was not as profitable.

"The conversations about closure really got more people involved and more aware," said current chancellor Dr. Karrie Dixon. "If we're really going to save this university, we're going to have to put the resources here. We're going to have to put the leadership here. We're going to have to make tough decisions to change the culture. Because northeastern North Carolina needs ECSU to thrive."

The bill was essentially scrapped.

"To be honest with you, you get angry, you get upset. You get disappointed and you get frustrated," said Lassiter. "(Legislators) didn't understand the economic impact that Elizabeth City State had in that area. If they had shut down Elizabeth City, it would probably destroy a lot of families."

So he joined others and fought back.

"You got to take your mask off. You have to take the gloves off. We had to let them know you can't do that. Because that university changed our lives," he said.

Another hallmark of the school is its signature aviation program. When Chancellor Dixon started at the university, the school only had two planes. Now, that number stands at 12.

"The phone is ringing off the hook," Dr. Dixon said. "Students want to know how to become a pilot."

ECSU's aviation program is the only university, public or private, in the state that offers this degree. Currently, there are 90 students on the program's flying roster.

"There is a student flying every 2 hours," said the aviation school's dean. "You have to be passionate to get into avionics. And we want to make sure they have the passion. We can make sure passion is what they have. But they need to maintain that passion."

Everything you will find at Elizabeth City State University is connected to and about Viking Pride.

"We have a lot to be proud of and we want people to know our story and know that we're here," said Chancellor Dixon.

"It's just family," said Lassiter. "We make you feel at home and we're gonna show you love...real, genuine love. That's what Elizabeth City does."

As an NC Promise school and a member of the UNC System, in-state residents are charged $500 per semester for tuition.