Raleigh HBCU heads want Apple's RTP move to boost diversity in tech

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Apple's impending east coast hub in Research Triangle Park puts the tech giant right in the middle of a state with the most 4-year historically Black colleges in the country.

The Triangle's local HBCUs are counting on the company to keep its promises to help build a more diverse workforce in tech.

Raleigh's top HBCU leaders spoke to ABC11 about the Apple effect on people of color here at home.

By the time Governor Cooper announced Apple's move to RTP on Monday, the presidents of Shaw and St. Augustine's University already knew.

RELATED: Apple unveils $1B investment to build east coast hub in Research Triangle, create at least 3,000 jobs

"I was excited," said Dr. Paulette Dillard, president of Shaw. Dillard and SAU President Christine Johnson McPhail had already been called by Apple reps who were seeking public support.

"But I did have to pause and ask a question: how does that translate to a broadened opportunity for a Shaw University or a St. Augustine's University," Dillard recalled.

A look at Shaw's rich history: The oldest HBCU in the South

Dr. McPhail said specific promises were not made. "I felt optimistic. I did. And I still do," McPhail said. "I think it needs to be deeper conversations."

Since George Floyd's murder and the national reckoning on race that followed, Apple committed $100 million to a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.

Saint Augustine's University: A survival story of spirit and pride

"Things must change. And Apple's committed to being a force for that change," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a video announcing the initiative last summer.

The company partnered with SAU and other HBCUs to announce the creation of the Propel Center in Atlanta -- an educational tech hub for Black colleges.

Apple partners with Saint Augustine's University as part of HBCU technology education hub


But Dillard and McPhail told ABC11 that Apple's move to the Triangle could and should be transformational for these small and historically under-funded Raleigh institutions; creating partnerships that could drive diversity in tech by using their students of color to fill the pipeline for those high-paying jobs too often out of reach.

"I asked them is there a way to ensure that smaller institutions like a Shaw or St. Aug would actually benefit from this amazing announcement," Dillard said. "I was not given any specifics but I was given assurance... their commitment to under-represented communities is front and center."

St. Aug's president insisted the moment demands a deeper investment. She wants Apple and other corporate donors to invest in retooling faculty and facilities on campus.

"We want to elevate the conversation. Let's get real," McPhail said. "I'm looking for a cash infusion as well. That we can tailor to specific needs. And I'm not talking about $10,000 either.

"I'd like to be sitting across the table with the corporations and say, 'This is what we need -- can you do it? Will you partner with me?' We know that there are billions out there. So if we're really serious about making a difference, let's make a difference."

A total of 40 percent of Black students in the state get their degree from an HBCU. To that, President Dillard contends (with a smile) that if Apple's move to RTP can't boost diversity in tech -- it can't be done.

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