Unfortunately, sometimes when we are angry we don’t take the time to sit down and clearly articulate what the real issue is behind our anger. Because of this we can find ourselves in trivial arguments, saying things that we really don’t mean. But, if we took the time to do the hard work and dissect our feelings, we might be able to make a better case for them.
For those of you who are unaware, a young woman who is Caucasian was recently crowned Miss Hampton University. She is a recent transfer, a nursing major, and per the news reports, she attends classes at Hampton University’s satellite campus in Virginia Beach.
At first glance, it would appear that any uproar related to this young woman’s crowning was related to her skin color – however, if you look deeper, people’s resentment of her win is not about her skin color it’s about the fact that it seems that the judges of the Miss Hampton University pageant blatantly ignored the rich and very real student culture, and selected a student that was not known by the student body as having an active presence on campus.
I attended Hampton University from 1997 to 2001 and vividly remember White and Puerto Rican students that were active members of the student body – active in sports, active in social clubs, actively hanging out “on the yard”, and actively perceived as an integral part of Hampton University’s culture. Any of those “minority” students that I just mentioned would have been supported had they decided to run for representative positions.
Life teaches us – in fact Hampton taught us, that perception, and immersion is extremely important. Anybody that attended Hampton during my time remembers the strict dress codes that the administration enforced (no do rags, no pants hanging below a certain point)…in fact, a couple of years ago, Hampton made the news because the school of business mandated that students could not wear corn rows. The message that Hampton was sending to the student body is that perception and assimilating into your environment are extremely important.
Now, the student body is sending the exact same message to the panel, and the administration – and that message is that the student body expects that their representatives will have been actively involved and integrated in the fabric of campus life. This is a fair argument.
I feel confident that if the young woman would have been active in student organizations, and a visible force on campus then the majority of students would have supported her win. Yes, her white skin would have made the news, but the student body would have stood by her – but the fact that the students perceive the newly crowned Miss Hampton as side stepping the “Hampton experience” has caused outrage in her win.
If you did not attend an HBCU, you may not be aware of the very real culture that exists at historically black colleges and universities. The “black college experience” is not spoken of in jest. It is a real experience that is a part of our heritage.
Many people (including some blacks), feel that HBCU’s have become obsolete institutions, I whole heartedly disagree with these people. One of the definitions of heritage is something that is passed down from preceding generations, a tradition. Granted, there are positive and negative traditions…however, for many in the black community, attending HBCU’s is as integral to their positive heritage and cultural traditions as; Quinceanera celebrations in the Hispanic community, or bar mitzvah’s in the Jewish community etc…I think you see where I’m going with this.
No, attending an HBCU is not a religious rite of passage, but for many African Americans, it is as important as that. It is about paying homage to institutions that educated our parents, and grandparents when, by law and custom, they could not attend majority institutions. HBCU’s still play an extremely relevant role in providing a cultural experience for African Americans, they allow African Americans to receive the invaluable experience of coming of age in a majority environment, as most students spend the first 18 years of their life immersed in experiences where they are the minority.
DS Download: Given our history in this country it has become essential to our survival that we build a heritage that uplifts us as a people. HBCU’s have been a MAJOR part of that fabric and upliftment. Because many of us have no idea what village our ancestors came from; which language our great, great, great, grandfathers spoke; what our family crest was or what the African equivalent may have looked like etc – attending HBCU’s, and immersing ourselves in a majority experience for four years is something that we adopted as uniquely ours; something special and positive that we ingrained in our heritage. It is how many of our parents, and grandparents met. It is how many black professionals built wealth and continue to build wealth, and the tradition and importance of HBCU’s and the black college experience cannot be denied.
That being said – THERE IS ROOM FOR INCLUSION in the black college experience. I know this for a fact because I saw it when I was at Hampton. But, inclusion without a perceived investment in the culture will always encounter resistance – and it is that way with any institution.
Just as Hampton teaches us that when we go out into the real world/corporate America we will need to march to the beat of the corporate drum (perhaps cut our natural hair, learn to play golf, watch the base in our voice etc)…when a student comes to our campus they need to do the same thing – immerse themselves in the culture of Hampton University’s campus. In fact, any student looking to represent a college campus should be an integral part of the campuses culture first.
There is nothing wrong with Hampton University students wanting to be represented by a Miss Hampton that is actively involved in student culture and campus life. And if given the choice between an in-active black student, and an actively engaged white student, I’m confident that any Hamptonian would choose the latter – regardless of their white skin.
When my parents went to Hampton Miss Hampton was elected by the student body – the administration needs to let the student body vote for the student that they feel would best represent them.