A Monday morning visit to “The Breakfast Club” by Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to tout the Biden Administration’s dedication to historically Black colleges and universities left a lot to be desired as hosts Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Envy asked him questions about HBCUs.
But when the topic turned to the recent student protests at Howard University over campus living conditions, Cardona — who explained that part of his job is to secure funding for institutions of higher learning — was all but stumped about one of the biggest storylines centered on HBCUs this year.
To be sure, Charlamagne and Envy — the latter of whom is an HBCU graduate, himself — didn’t throw any so-called “gotcha” questions at Cardona to try to trip him up. They asked him fairly basic and straightforward questions that theoretically should have been anticipated, like why President Joe Biden has failed to keep campaign promises to cancel student loan debt.
Cardona responded in kind by saying that the Biden Administration has been “aggressive” with its student loan debt forgiveness, including billions of federal dollars that he said are provided in the American Rescue Plan and Build Back Better framework. But when pressed harder for answers — “Where the money at, Miguel?” Charlamagne asked — Cardona leaned into familiar Administration talking points that seemed to ring hollow on the popular morning show.
“We’re making things happen,” Cardona insisted.
Data shows that Black college students, especially those at HBCUs, are particularly saddled with loan debt accruing interest at an exponential rate that is nearly impossible to keep up with. It is in that context that it was announced Monday morning that Biden will not be extending the pandemic-induced pause on student loan payments and officially ending it at the end of January.
When Charlamagne specifically addressed how just a small fraction of Biden’s pledged tens of billions of dollars for HBCU were being earmarked, Cardona deflected and blamed Congress. “That’s the Hill,” he said.
DJ Envy followed that up by contrasting how mega-corporations like Amazon get tax breaks from the government to make billions with the treatment for HBCUs, Cardona said, “we’ve got a president who’s addressing that now,” a claim to which Charlamagne responded bluntly: “I don’t believe you.”
After running down the specifics, Cardona said of HBCUs, “we’re looking out for them.”
Raising an eyebrow, Charlamagne seemingly still needed some convincing of that claim and asked Cardona what turned out to be the mic-drop question: “How did you feel when you saw the housing crisis at Howard university?”
Cardona, reaching for a bottle of water to apparently stall his answer, seemed genuinely flummoxed and completely caught off guard.
Likely reacting to Cardona’s apparent hesitation, DJ Envy asked, “Did you see it?”
That prompted Cardona, whose office is located about 2.5 miles directly south of Howard’s campus in Washington, D.C, to admit he was clueless about the 34-day student protest there centered on demands for improved living conditions, like ridding dorms of mold, and adjusting administrative policies.
“I didn’t see it,” Cardona said. “No, I don’t know specifically.”
After DJ Envy gave Cardfona a primer of the protest that ended last month with student leaders announcing a confidential deal with Howard, Charlamagne pointed out the elephant in the room.
“It’s just weird when I heard about all this money but then I see one of the top HBCUs in the country having those kinds of problems,” he told Cardona. “Right there in your backyard in D.C.”
Cardona, apparently trying to save face while discussing a topic that was huge in the HBCU community, leaned into the aforementioned talking points that didn’t do anything to further the conversation.
“What I will tell you is that funds that are there are not only intended to support tuition and those things but also whatever needs those students have,” Cardona said. “Including housing.”
When Cardona quickly tried to spin away from that topic by offering up an unsolicited story about going to Howard’s campus at a different time and seeing the university’s community outreach regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, Charlamagne playfully called him out.
“But you didn’t visit during that time!” Charlamagne teased Cardona about being unaware of Howard’s recent student protest.
Watch the video below.
“The Breakfast Club” has traditionally been a vehicle through which bureaucrats try to reach the Black community in purported efforts to connect to related issues. But recent instances have seemingly backfired.
Aside from Cardona’s underwhelming visit on Monday, Joe Biden the presidential candidate visited the show back in May 2020 and questioned people’s racial allegiances while scoffing at Black people who were unsure of whom to vote for months ahead of Election Day.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black!” Biden declared in a moment that continues to provide his conservative critics with plenty of political ammunition.
Days later, Biden was forced to apologize for being “such a wise guy.”
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