The Impact of COVID-19 on Leadership at a Historically Black University (HBCU)

Michael C. Davis, Tennessee State University


The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruption in higher education, requiring rapid adaptation from colleges and universities worldwide. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States faced unique challenges serving their disproportionately low-income, first-generation racial minority students. This qualitative descriptive study aimed to provide an in-depth account of how one HBCU responded to the unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The participant sample consisted of 8 key administrators representing academic affairs, information technology, online learning, student services, facilities management, and other units integral to the emergency response. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to elicit rich details corresponding to the thematic categories of Academic Continuity, Student Services, Institutional Operations, Decision-Making Process, Innovation and Advantages, and Lessons Learned. The interviews, informed by an open-ended guide, provided administrators’ perspectives on the chronology of events, rationale for policies, changes made to operations and academics, challenges and barriers faced, and effective practices. Results encompassed comprehensive descriptions of the multifaceted strategies, obstacles, and facilitators experienced by the HBCU in upholding its educational mission during the disruption while supporting its disproportionately under-resourced students. Key findings highlighted the importance of clear communication, equitable resource distribution, and student-centered supports during crises. This timely research makes an important contribution by centering the knowledge and perspectives of HBCU leaders on the frontlines. Their lived experiences provide valuable insights for strengthening emergency preparedness and crisis management at minority-serving institutions.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Higher education|Black studies|Educational technology

Recommended Citation

Michael C. Davis, "The Impact of COVID-19 on Leadership at a Historically Black University (HBCU)" (2024). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI31140847.