Spotlight: Fulbright HBCU

Fulbridge is happy to feature the organization Fulbright HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Fulbright HBCU’s mission is to create awareness as well as highlight and encourage HBCU participation in the Fulbright program. Parul Srivastava, a 2020-2021 Researcher to the U.S.A talked with Ashleigh Brown- Grier, a 2016-2017 ETA to Malaysia, who founded Fulbright HBCU.

Fulbright HBCU logo

1. Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright, and what countries did you opt for?

When I applied for the Fulbright program, I was in a Master of Arts in Teaching program at Morgan State University and was interested in teaching abroad. I applied to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program twice. The first time was to Vietnam, where I made it to the semi-finalist round, and the second application was to Malaysia. I was finally awarded a Fulbright ETA grant to Malaysia in 2016-2017.



2. What were some highlights of your Fulbright grant year? What were some challenges?

Some of the highlights of my grant year was publishing a book with my students, Palatable Poems and Succulent Pe’s (short for recipes).

Ashleigh published a book entitled, ‘Palatable Poems and Succulent Pe’s‘ (short for recipes) with her students. Here, her students hold their copy of the book.

This book included my former American and Malaysian students. Additionally, I was able to take my students on several out of town trips. One of my favourite trips was taking students to visit the U.S. Embassy and Fulbright office in Kuala Lumpur. I enjoyed getting to know my students, co-workers, and community members and they are definitely a part of my extended family. I was also able to do some travelling during my grant year which allowed me to meet new people and learn about other countries and cultures.

One of my challenges was being a Black woman in rural Malaysia. This is mostly due to the horrible stereotyping of Black people in westernized media. Additionally, many of my community members did not know about the slave trade or segregation in America. Hence, they assumed that I was African and that Black people weren’t American. Armed with this information, I taught lessons about slavery and segregation in the United States.

The second challenge was colourism. That is a huge issue in South East Asia, and it was something that I was not very familiar with. I was laughed and pointed at during outings in town and while travelling. Black and darker-skinned grantees were never considered pretty. Most of the compliments directed towards me were about my beautiful singing voice.

Ashleigh (second from left) at the U.S Embassy and Fulbright office in Kuala Lumpur

Additionally, I felt quite harassed by people who wanted to take pictures with Black Americans. To deal with this, I often limited my time out in the town and spent most of my time at school with my students.

Lastly, I developed a great bond with three other ETAs, and we supported each other during hard times. It was essential to build relationships with people who have similar experiences, and hence, we learned from each other as to how to navigate the racial struggles we faced. We supported one another on work projects and travelled together as much as possible.

None of these challenges trumped my overall experience in Malaysia, and if given an opportunity, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

Ashleigh (second from right) in a traditional attire

3. How did you initially get the idea for Fulbright HBCU?

During my time as an ETA, I noticed a disparity amongst Black students and students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) participation in the Fulbright program. Upon returning to the U.S., I began researching Black student participation who study abroad and noticed a significant disparity amongst Black students
participating in study and exchange abroad programs. Armed with this information, I decided to bridge this gap by focusing my scholarly research on internationalization at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In February 2020, I launched Fulbright HBCU.

4. What does Fulbright HBCU do? What is its mission, and how does it accomplish that?

Fulbright HBCU conducts outreach to HBCU students through presentations and on-campus/virtual meetings. The mission of Fulbright HBCU is to provide knowledge and awareness about and to increase HBCU student participation in the Fulbright program. This is done by conducting outreach in partnership with the Fulbright program and by highlighting Fulbright alumni who have attended an HBCU.

Ashleigh enjoying time with her students

5. Did you face any challenges when you started Fulbright HBCU?

Fulbright HBCU was started in February 2020, and COVID 19 induced pandemic definitely put a hold on our vision of highlighting current grantees. However, at the same time, COVID has also allowed us to focus on our vision of conducting outreach to HBCUs.

6. How have you seen Fulbright HBCU evolve since it first started, and what plans do you have for Fulbright HBCU in the future?

We are still in the beginning phases, so we are dealing with the challenges of implementing an affinity. We hope to overcome these challenges as we continue our work in the future.

7. What advice do you have for current or former Fulbrighters thinking of starting their own organization?

Go for it! I came up with the idea for Fulbright HBCU two years ago. At the time, I wanted to include other people, and the vision was stalled. In February, I took the leap on my own and started the affinity group.

Ashleigh with her students in Malaysia

As I talk with Fulbright alumni, they always mention how they wish a platform like Fulbright HBCU existed during their application process, and time abroad. Affinity groups are needed to help support and create a network for people with similar experiences.

Get to know the founder: Ashleigh Brown- Grier is currently pursuing a PhD in the higher education program at Howard University. Her research focus is on internationalization at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She is a graduate of two HBCUs and is currently a student at an HBCU. Fun Fact: All three HBCUs where Ashleigh studied were founded in 1867!

The Fulbright HBCU board members and Fulbright Alumni are Jonathon Epps (Morehouse College) , Emmanuel Johnson (North Carolina A&T), Zainab Ali (North Carolina A&T), and Alexandra Hauke (North Carolina A&T).

Be sure to check out their Instagram handle @fulbright.hbcu to read more stories of HBCU Fulbrighters and to share your own. You could also follow them on Facebook.

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