On November 5, 2020, two Students Speak online discussions brought community college students together from different parts of the country to consider two important and difficult public issues. One group, made up of students from all nine community colleges in West Virginia talked together about how the economy is affecting them. Another group included students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), a Tribal College, and an Appalachian College to talk about racism and racial healing.
The Students Speak conversations that streamed live on YouTube were convened by The 2020 Think Tank for National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students and hosted by West Virginia Univesity Parkersburg. The conversations were co-sponsored by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) and the West Virginia Center for Civic Life.
The National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students was founded by Dr. Chris Gilmer after the 2016 election, and is funded from private donations secured by the Office of the President at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.
In a November 6, 2020 DiverseEducation.com article titled National Convening Focuses on Historically-Underserved Students, Gilmer said:
What sets the National Institutes apart is our mission...We are seeking to fill a major hole. We are addressing what underserved students have in common across multiple populations, and we are unaware of any other group taking this direction as its major focus. How are Latinx and African American students similarly underserved because of race? How are students at tribal colleges and first-generation students at other colleges, regardless of race, similarly underserved?
About putting students at the center of the National Institutes' work, Gilmer also said:
We grew from a network of old friends and colleagues committed to equity and inclusion into a national network with delegates from more than 20 states and the District of Columbia, and what is unique about our organization is that we put students at the center of everything we do. The greatest arrogance of higher education is that it so often does not include the student voice, the voice most central to its purpose, and we will not be guilty of perpetuating that grave oversight.