A Different World It Is Not
A Different World It Is Not
By: Honey B. Baker
So this morning I woke up to read that the president of the illustrious Hampton University released a letter disparaging BET’s new drama, The Quad. The Quad is set at the fictional Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical University, an HBCU that is currently embroiled in financial turmoil.
I am a harsh critic of anything that portrays the HBCU or Greek life experience, as I am a product of both. I am a proud graduate of Elizabeth City State University and I am also a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated. Time after time I have seen both of these experiences bastardized and sold for parts (looking at you, Stomp The Yard). HBCUs are more than their flashy bands and historically black sororities and fraternities are more than their steps, chants, and colors. But I digress...
Being the critic that I am when I sat down to watch the first episode of The Quad, I was ready to rip it to shreds before it even started looking for an inaccuracies or wack over-dramatizations. However, what struck me about The Quad was that it hit too close to home for me especially the part about an HBCU being in financial turmoil.
Financial issues are not something that is unique to HBCUs. However, it seems to hit HBCUs so much harder than other institutions. As previously stated, I am a graduate of ECSU and as Dr. Eva Fletcher came in it was clear that GAMU was in financial trouble. My alma mater has been embroiled in financial troubles since my junior year in 2013. The state’s board of governor has threatened us with closure or state taken over on numerous occasions because of financial issues and allegations of financial mismanagement. However, my HBCU is not the only one in the state that has been attacked by our state’s legislature Winston Salem State as well as Fayetteville State have also been hounded by the state. Additionally, look at the financial issues and rancor faced by other illustrious institutions such as Alabama State and even Howard University, which was faced with the possibility of having to sale its TV station at one point in time.
No, HBCUs are not homes to or breeding grounds for dysfunction. However, we are not cloaked in privilege to provide us with a safety net when financial issues arise or when scandals go down.
Scandals... I know a lot of people took issue with the portrayal of the band director, Dr. Diamond in The Quad. Dr. Diamond’s is the antagonist of the show; he is a band director that rules both his band and the university with an iron fist. His ego is bolstered by the fact that his band, the Mighty Marching Mountain Cats, is the university’s financial bread and butter. However, this does not come without a dark side—a culture of hazing, fear, and intimidation. This is brought to light after a freshman band neophyte is brutally assaulted as part of a band initiation ritual.
Speaking about hazing makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Because hazing is supposed to be a long gone vestige of the college experience. But let’s face the facts, it’s happens. Just ask the family of Robert Champion, a member of Florida A&M’s Marching 100 percussion section who died as a result of injuries sustained during an initiation ritual. Just ask the families of victims of numerous tragic hazing incidents that have even resulted in death or serious injuries over the years. Organizations do not get put off the yard or suspended for not getting permission for their bake sales. Sadly, not always but sometimes administrators or people in positions of power look the other way when allegations of having are alleged due to either loyalty to the organization itself or to the institution as a whole. No, I am not saying that hazing is acceptable or even that it’s commonplace but it does happen and sometimes it happens with grave consequences. But again this problem is not unique to HBCUs, look at all the deaths due to alcohol poisoning at PWIs or other deaths related to PWI Greek Life.
As I perused the Twitterverse during the season premiere of The Quad I noticed people kept comparing it to A Different World, the Cosby Show spinoff that for many people put HBCUs on the map. I expected these comparisons but I still did not understand them. For the most part, A Different World was a lighthearted comedy that followed the coed follies of the main characters they only now and then would hit you with a hard-hitting episode that confronted issues such as sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, racism—both casual and blatant, and many other hot topic issues that are still relevant today. The Quad however is a show in the vein of Scandal, it’s a high stakes drama. The first episode included a murder, a beating that leads to a coma, and a case of alcohol poisoning. I decided to take The Quad for what it is, a drama that just happens to be set at an HBCU. I saw tweets saying, “I hope people don’t think this is how HBCUs really are.” “HBCUs aren’t like this at all.” Etc.
I guess with the dawning preeminence of “reality” TV shows it is really getting harder for people to separate fact from fiction. I mean hell the President of the United States of America is a former reality TV star. And with that being said a lot of people take too much away from TV shows even those that are fictional but it’s takes on an even deeper level when it’s “us” black folks are concerned. When Empire premiered thought piece after thought piece was pumped out saying that this show was not an accurate representation of black people. Of course, Empire is not an accurate representation of black people and it’s embarrassing for someone to even feel they have to make that assertion. Anyone with a shred of common sense should realize that the HBCU like any of show is just for entertainment. By following this school of thought you’d be lead to believe that all law school professors are psychopaths such as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder.
The Quad is entertainment—nothing more, nothing less. It follows in a long line of television shows set on the campus of a university. However, it’s one of the few set at an HBCUs. I can understand some of the concerns of the detractors but still I can separate fact from fiction.
To The Quad detractors I say this, if you want to make sure this isn’t the perception that our young minds have of HBCUs, be a mentor. Take pride in your HBCU, get involved in drawing students to your HBCU, be a shining example of your HBCU in your community, and always tout the highlights of HBCUs. HBCUs are still and will forever be relevant. However, we must value and uphold our schools but we must also be willing to be honest and be real. HBCUs just like any other institution of higher learning have their issues and flaws.
Additionally, what I have loved so far about the storytelling on The Quad is this one particular scene. Coby Bell portrays a very albeit eccentric wealthy GAMU alum who has happened to have made his fortune in strip clubs and restaurants. However, while meeting with Dr. Fletcher he tells how he found his way to GAMU. He was from a poor family and never really saw college for himself but eventually found his way to GAMU where he majored in business and used that degree to propel him to success and he gives back to his university for doing so.
In my opinion, that is what HBCUs are about giving people the chances they may not have otherwise had. HBCUs give many people the education that they need to be the change agents and trailblazers in the world regardless of their background.