A College and Its Students

20 Oct

What differentiates one institution from another?  The college’s brand: its legacy, its spokespeople (alumni and current attendants) and its media rankings.

These factors  create a college’s currency, appraised most honestly when a student offers his alma mater’s or current institution’s name to a stranger.  Does the recipient gasp with glee?  Or simply nod with vague recognition?

This mystique  is exactly what Morehouse is fighting to protect.

For generations, the school’s administration has carefully  preserved the image of the Morehouse men.  Hailing the legacies of distinguished alumni, amongst them Martin Luther King, Spike Lee and others, the school is known as the premiere institution for the ambitious black male.

The school has been praised for its rich legacy, academic rigor and outstanding student body, giving the mere title of a man of Morehouse immense prestige, one earned from years of academic achievement and tuition.

Thanks to a recent Vibe magazine article,  now another image surfaces when the name Morehouse is mentioned.  The visual of greatness, of fortitude and historic firsts is now supplanted by another: one of the Plastics, the school’s cross-dressing group that has become the poster-child in the controversial cross-dressing ban.

The image itself is neither positive or negative, in my opinion.  It simply exists.

The Plastics, their existence and their confirmation of the homosexual underculture of the college isn’t really ground-breaking.

I first learned about this subculture a couple of years ago, when an associate eagerly burst my excitement over the mere notion of have the best and brightest men of color at my fingertips: “It’s not as heavenly as it seems.”

The article  simply gave a us a vivid visual: it left us with the androgynous males’ faces and names.

This certainly isn’t the first time media has published and promoted exclusives on schools and students that have nothing to do with academics.

In 1987, “Lipsticks and Lords: Yale’s New Look” was published by Yale alumna Julie Iovine.  In the article, she states that one in four Yale students was gay.  The article created uproar, resulted in president denouncing the article as fictitious.  In many ways, it was.  According to a New Times article, the journalist based her assertions on an interview with only three students and largely only grappled with the changes in the 10 years following her matriculation.
Ironically, a lot of the rhetoric is similar between the Yale and Morehouse presidents’ statements. The Yale president “dismissed its Yale-turned-gay theme as an impression from a few students extrapolated into ‘an extremely misleading picture of the student body.'”

Likewise, Morehouse president stated last week, “It seems clear from the headline alone that the Vibe editorial team’s intent is to sensationalize and distort reality for the purpose of driving readership.”

The catch.  Today, Yale embraces its Gay Ivy status.  Last year’s fall edition of the Yale Alumni Magazine featured an editor’s note entitled “Why They Call Yale the Gay Ivy.”


A 2001 Rolling Stone article called “To Be Gay At Yale heralded the gay-friendly environment of the school.

Another now notorious article exposes the sexual lifestyles of Wellesley women.  The 2oo1 article, also by the Rolling Stone, was christened “The Highly-Charged Erotic Life of the Wellesley Girl.”

The article describes women of the school sharing men, betting on who can bag who first, and also details sexual encounters with professors and amongst fellow Wellesley women.


Here’s an excerpt from the Wellesley president’s response:

“The recent article about Wellesley College in Rolling Stone magazine is an example of irresponsible and sensationalist journalism, designed to sell magazines rather than inform readers. The depictions of Wellesley College students, faculty, and staff are grossly distorted and are an appalling affront to the intelligent, hard-working, and talented individuals who make up this campus community.”

It mirrors the statements of the first two.

It seems that the media has a thing for exposing the sexual lives and cultures of colleges.

While the articles, in their day, caused great controversy and public relations nightmares for each school, once the air cleared enrollment remained strong and the brand was yet intact.

Though the media tactics and topics may seem scandalous, unfair and incredibly wrong in their characterizations of schools, such probes often highlight trends that would otherwise go ignored and unnoticed.

Perhaps these past examples should serves as models for the Morehouse administration.  Instead of cowering from the assertions about the vibrant cross-dressing community at Morehouse, instead of fighting to preserve a singular notion of what it means to be a Morehouse men, perhaps the institution should use the Vibe article and discussion that it has created as a sounding board to address issues of homosexuality, homophobia and manhood within the Black community.

Last year’s change in policy seemed designed to dictate what a Morehouse man should and shouldn’t look like. Men that shape the institution and created its rich legacy, did so, not through their appearance, but through their actions.   As long as the institution sticks to shaping and building and nurturing young black minds, it will remain a place of distinction, achievement and solid branding.

Until next time.


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