In a major feature story published today, NBC News reports that three major White House Initiatives — each designed to coordinate outreach to and enhance educational opportunities for communities of colour — have not had expected or scheduled meetings with anyone in the White House since President Trump took office in January.
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA), and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), are all housed under the Department of Education, and each was originally formed with the mission of improving educational access and outcomes for their respective communities. WHIAAPI was formed in 1999 by President Clinton, but under President George W. Bush, WHIAAPI was directed to shift its focus towards the economy and growing Asian American small businesses. WHIAAPI was later reestablished under the Department of Education to continue its original mission by President Barack Obama.
The three Initiatives each have their own Presidential Advisory Commissions comprised of a mixture of government officials and public advisors — many of them educators — as well as full-time staff to help carry out the Initiatives’ ongoing projects and objectives. Each have been instrumental in developing community outreach programs, sponsoring summits, and providing internship opportunities for their respective communities; and, many of those efforts remain ongoing even after Trump’s inauguration in January. With regard to the Asian American & Pacific Islander communities, WHIAAPI served as a communications hub that helped coordinate efforts between the federal government and community organizers on topics as wide-ranging as health disparities, language inaccess, data disaggregation, and classroom bullying. Furthermore, WHIAAPI provided unprecedented access for the AAPI community to voice public interest concerns directly to the White House.
However, according to NBC News, none of the White House’s three Presidential Advisory Commissions addressing Black, Hispanic, or AAPI communities have met since January, and there has been no communication between the Trump administration and commission members. The three Initiatives associated with these Commissions have received no direction from the Trump White House on their mission over the four years of the president’s term in office, and indeed, it remains unclear whether the three Initiatives will even continue to exist under the Trump administration.
Absent any action by President Trump, all three Initiatives will cease to exist at the end of next week, in accordance with an Executive Order signed by President Obama to grant each the authority to continue operations through Trump’s transition period. Trump could easily sign an Executive Order — something the president appears to enjoy doing — that would renew each of the Initiatives and the related Presidential Advisory Commissions. However, Trump has appeared to vacate all interest in or responsibility for the three Initiatives — despite their missions of addressing educational outcomes in the Black, Hispanic, and Asian American & Pacific Islander communities — leaving the fate of these programs in serious doubt.
Earlier this year, most of the members of WHIAAPI resigned in protest over President Trump’s campaign trail racism and attempted Muslim ban. They also cited a lack of response from the White House to WHIAAPI on these matters and other issues affecting the AAPI community as a factor in their decision to resign. Currently, only four commission members remain on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders. However, as of the time of this writing, the WHIEEH and WHIEEAA commissions remain intact, and commission members told NBC they continue to seek direction from the White House on their continued work. Last week, WHIEEH issued a public statement urging the White House to meet with them in advance of next week’s reauthorization deadline and received no response.
“There has been, to my knowledge, no communication between the Department of Education and the [Hispanic initiative] commission or the commissioners,” Patricia Gándara, a UCLA professor who currently serves on the Educational Excellence for Hispanics commission, told NBC News.
…Without the imprimatur of the White House, Gándara said it’s “conceivable that there could be some other free-standing commission,” but added that “the whole notion behind the White House commission is that it advises the president.”
“There has been no leadership from the White House or at the federal level,” Gándara continued. “The commissioners don’t have the wherewithal to meet on their own, and I guess there’s a real question about what purpose that would serve if it’s an advisory commission and there’s nobody to take the advice.”
Given President Trump’s lackadaisical — and, at times, overtly hostile — positions towards Blacks, Latinxs, and AAPIs, it seems unlikely that the Trump administration will renew Initiatives designed to specifically strengthen outreach into these communities. Trump has notoriously failed to meet with the Congressional APA Caucus despite repeated calls for a meeting, and a meeting between Trump and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was deemed ineffective by the CBC negating any interest in further contact. Furthermore, President Trump has expressed deep-seated resistance towards soliciting or considering counsel from any but his closest advisors; it is hard to imagine his administration will see much use for any of his Presidential Advisory Commissions, let alone those focused on communities of colour. Indeed, since Trump has taken office, he has also lost his Committee on the Arts and Humanities and two of his business advisory councils, and has suffered an unprecedented turnover rate among his senior staffers and top advisors.
Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether the loss of WHIEEH, WHIEEAA, and WHIAAPI will permanently damage the organizing structures established by these Initiatives, or if the projects started by these Initiatives will be able to continue organically past the end of next week. What is certain is that if the Trump White House fails to reauthorize WHIEEH, WHIEEAA, and WHIAAPI, it will be the communities that these Initiatives and their Commissions serve who will suffer the greatest injury.
Yet again, the White House signals that serving America’s people of colour is not among this administration’s priorities. Instead — through either incompetence or deliberate malice — President Trump is at the cusp of allowing three Initiatives that have withstood the transition of power between four presidents including two from each of America’s major political parties to languish into irrelevance; and, possibly fade away into non-existence altogether. President Trump is the sitting American president, but he signals no interest in being a president to America’s people of colour.
When contacted by NBC News, the White House refused to provide a public comment on whether it plans to reauthorize the three Initiatives.
For more on this story and some truly outstanding reporting — as well as quotes from several commission members — please check out the full feature from NBC News: Presidential Advisory Commissioners Question Educational Initiatives’ Futures