Emotional debate at Shaw University: Losing a legacy or charting a brighter future?

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Losing a legacy or visionary progress? Fiery debate over Shaw U future
A passionate debate was held Monday at Shaw University where supporters said the HBCU has to embrace change. Critics asked at what cost.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- They passionately debated a new direction at the oldest Historically Black College and University in the South in a community meeting Monday night over Shaw University's plans to modernize its aging campus by leasing parts of its valuable downtown property to outside developers.

The goal is to create the premier urban HBCU campus in the state. But Shaw's leadership wants the community's support for its big plan. And they still have some work to do.

"The gentrification is not going anywhere," exclaimed one meeting participant at the sometimes passionate meeting inside Yancy Hall -- Shaw's newest building which was constructed in 2009.

This was the third community meeting about the proposal that's been dubbed "Shaw U District," the university's plan to leverage its valuable land holdings downtown -- to modernize its aging infrastructure by leasing portions of its 27-acre historically black campus to outside developers for modern retail-residential and office towers that would also serve students and neighbors.

Supporters said Shaw has to embrace change. Critics ask at what cost.

"Shaw right now needs all of our minds behind them," said a supporter of the plan. One critic fired back, "You think all these White people who buy the condos and the buildings are gonna allow these little Black kids to hang around? It's gonna be a whole problem."

A zoning expert from the City of Raleigh walked community members through the city's alpha-numeric soup of zoning regulations. On July 1, Shaw filed a rezoning application to allow high rises up to 40 stories on campus.

Shaw's president, Dr. Paulette Dillard, told audience members that the rezoning application doesn't necessarily mean Shaw wants or needs 40-story buildings. But the measure gives the flexibility to lure developers who can build what they want plus what the university needs: better housing and amenities for students and neighbors - including things such as a potential grocery store, pharmacy or events space.

"I want all of us to do what we need to do for Shaw's future," Dillard told the crowd.

It may take some added convincing.

"Instead of operating from weakness, we need to operate from a position of power," said Eugene Myrick, a Shaw alumnus and opponent of the plan. "The City of Raleigh hasn't always been our friend. Why can't we stay independent? Why do we need to turn it over to the developers?"

Isaac Horton IV, a Raleigh entrepreneur and Shaw neighbor who told the crowd that his grandfather is a Shaw Medical School alum and his father was born on campus, rejected the argument that Shaw leaders were somehow selling out to outside developers who intend to take over the campus.

"I don't buy it," Horton said. "We're talking about millions and millions of dollars in development in downtown Raleigh. We need Black developers in the state, in the region, to come see what Shaw's talking about. Everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and contribute."

While the city considers Shaw's rezoning application, at least four more community discussions are slated to talk about the plans. The next meeting is at 6 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the campus.