The Real Issue with the Newly Crowned Miss Hampton University

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.

22 thoughts on “The Real Issue with the Newly Crowned Miss Hampton University

  1. 🙂 Very well said, and thank you for clarifying that the students didnt have a say (or vote) for Miss HU, which should seriously be reconsidered.

  2. I wish what you put was true. However, in the days and weeks leading up to the pageant, I had an opportunity to speak with a number of students (even campus leaders).

    None of them spoke of her lack of campus participation only her race. Her lack of campus life wasn’t mentioned until the initial statements made were called racist. It was more like “………oh well, she doesn’t even go to school on campus”

    I’m not saying that her lack of campus involvement doesn’t play a part. And if the students want to have a person that truly represents them then they should request that the school remove itself from the Miss America Organization (which I don’t recommend) or remove Miss Hampton from the Admin Council (which puts her in the position of just a figure head).

    However, I do think that this does expose a slight double standard when it comes to racial relations.

    If you listen to Conservative Talk Show hosts, you will hear them coming hard against the policies of Obama. Though these are statements and assertions that they have made for years concerning policy, they are accused of being racist against Obama. HU Students and alum alike have done the same thing in this case (read the tweets, facebook statuses etc. about this situation).

    All in all, I think we need to take a truly introspective look and use this as a teachable moment in all of us. Let’s call it what it is and truly do what is necessary to promote unity, excellence and healing amongst a University that has become a leader in the community and really LEAD.

    Just my 7 cents.

    • Thanks for your input. One of the points that I tried to make is that people’s knee jerk reaction may have been to call out her color or say mean things – but, if they sat down, and really thought about what the real underlying issue was – my hypothesis would be that it was the fact that she wasn’t a part of the campus culture – and hadn’t tried to become a part of the culture…and the all of a sudden she’s supposed to be a representative?? When I was at HU, i went to school with whites and other races that made an effort to be an active part of the campus community, and they were welcomed and embraced.

      I appreciate your different take on the matter.

      • And respect yours. Considering I believe I saw you a lot my freshman year (I think you may have even interviewed me for Student Leaders). I agree w/ the fact that students want to be represented. However isn’t the first reaction often the truth? Shows what’s really inside a person? Just a thought.

      • You do make a good point, about a first reaction. But i’m saying it’s not as simple as saying that HU students are racist. Yes, a handful might be. But, i don’t think the issue is that cut and dry.

        I don’t know in detail about the exact words that were said to her. I’m not condoning mean words or racial slurs. I’m looking at the greater sentiment of dissapointment, and trying to pause, and see what the real issue might be…when people are hurt – there’s ALWAYS a deeper issue.

        Not everyone who was dissappointed in her win cursed her or hurled racial slurs at her – in fact she said that the majority did not. But she did feel a greater sense of dissatisfaction with her win. I feel that the people that were upset had not taken the time to articulate why…so i’m sharing my hypothesis, trying to get at the why.

        I don’t see anything wrong with students collectively standing up and saying that they want to be represented by someone who plays an active role in student life – whether that student be black, asian, white, black/asian etc. As i stated, there is room for inclusion in the black college experience.

      • Also, i just wanted to add that i don’t think the first reaction is always the truth – BUT, as adults, our first reaction is one that we have to take responsibility for, and own. So, if someone called her a derogatory name – they would need to take ownership and apologize for that action – if they were sorry for their actions. And then, maybe they could take a step towards working past their hurt/anger, and articulating the real issue.

        One of my close friend is a therapist…so we often talk about how people argue so much and don’t dig down to the real issue.

        Again, this is just my opinion. I appreciate the dialogue.

  3. My question is simply this: since when did everyone get up in arms about Ms. Hampton and whether or not she accurately represents the university? Our former Miss was caught on video shoplifting from a local Target, and she was still allowed to maintain her crown. Where were all of these angry students then? Where was the outcry of mis-representation? People are calling her “white bitch” and things like that…hurling racial epithets at her as if they should be wearing Klan robes. It is disheartening to see people who claim to be so educated stoop so low. To vocalize your anger is one thing, but to harrass is quite a different story. Further, their ignorance is effectively making a martyr out of her.

    NOW…with that being said…her letter to Obama was a bit much. Yes, she’s the first white person to be crowned a Miss @ Hampton, but her comparison is quite presumptuous. Add in the fact that her letter was elementary and poorly written, and you’ve got yourself something at which to shake your head in disbelief.

    • Well, up to now, it doesn’t seem like there was necessarily a reason that the student body would be up in arms at a winner of the Miss HU pageant – she has traditionally been picked from a group of women that were collectively considered to be a member of young women that were active on campus.

      Did the former HU embarass and disgrace the role – yes, but that’s not what we’re discussing here. I’m not saying that all former Miss HU’s have been perfect. I’m saying that the perception of the student body in the past, has been that Miss HU has been picked from a student representative – a student that was known as being active “on the yard”….a student that was immersed in the culture of the campus.

      NO – calling the young woman names is NOT okay. It is inappropriate – please note the first paragraph of my blog post.

      For my purposes, in my blog, i attempted to address what the REAL underlying issue might be.

      Again, harassing this young woman is NOT okay. But the attempt here, is to break the thinking down for her.

      I agree with your take on her letter. She has since issued an apology.

      I do feel, that it is now time to move forward.

  4. Wow, this is a lot to digest. First off, to the original post: Incredibly well put (and I’m not just saying that because it’s my cousin!).

    I think that the issue may have gotten a slight bit more initial uproar because the girl is white, but I agree had she also been present on campus and not transferred VERY recently to a SATELLITE campus, there wouldn’t be this issue.

    Ask yourselves: how would you feel if you were a student on this campus. Someone that none of you had ever met, who, yes, is not a part of your culture, gets picked to represent you and you never got a vote.

    How would that make you feel?

    No, the knee jerk response is NOT always the sum total of how someone “truly” feels. Ever said to your brother or sister when you were a kid “I hate you!”? Was that the sum total of how you felt?

    People say all kinds of things when they are outraged. What we need to discuss is the real issue (and this is not the first time) of students being alienated by the administration at Hampton. There have been some great administrators and teachers there, but this is one instance in which the student body’s best interest was not taken even into account.

    That is what the anger is about, and that is what the MAIN issue is.

  5. Wow I find this a tad bit shocking. I completely agree with what you are saying here. It was definitely well written. Personally I feel regardless if the young lady was active on campus there will still be a group of individuals still outraged because of her skin color. Yes, it is sad to say this, but for the four years I attended HU I feel that many students would still have found something to say about a Caucasian female being elected at a HBCU. They view it as a “black school” there for a “black” female should be elected to represent their school.

  6. Christina is right — in part.

    Becoming Miss Hampton University is a big deal, and it should be. Miss Hampton University is, in many respects, the signature student figure that represents the university’s educational, intellectual and professional character. Who she is and what she stands for should be reasonably scrutinized. Considering that Hampton is an HBCU and that we have never had a non-Black Miss Hampton, it is legitmate news that Hampton now has its first Miss HU in Miss Nikole Churchill.

    Christina has a very valid point. There are students of other ethnic heritages that attend Hampton University, and many of them are active in student and campus life. Being involved in some sort of activity, organization or initiative on campus was, for many students, their gateway to becoming a part of some of the Hampton family’s richest traditions. Had Churchill not been a student at one of the university’s satelite campuses, but instead been a more actively engaged full-time student at the main HU campus, her crowning likely would have been recieved with more warmth and acceptance. However, what if she had been a Black nursing student at one the satelite campuses? Would there have been as much resistance? I think not. There may have been a whisper or two about it, but there would not have been the kind vitriolic response she seems to have experienced immediately after her victory. As long as she was pretty, likable, had legitimately won the pageant — and been Black, there would not be the social asterisk that seems rest above her crown. In fact, depending on her circumstances, she may have even been admired for winning the pageant as a satelite campus student. To suggest that race was a secondary matter in the controversey over the response to Churchill becoming MIss HU is like saying Watergate was a secondary reason behind Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. In my humble opinion, the fact that she is a BIRACIAL white women is, in fact, the main issue.

    Which brings me to my next point. It is all to often that when describing a person of a multi-ethnic background, we have this outrageous tendency to identify someone by whatever the singular component of their race that WE deem relevant. We so often label people like Holly Barry, Alicia Keys, Tiger Woods — and Barack Obama — as simply being Black when, in fact, they are biracial. Miss Hampton is a biracial American citizen. Her father is Guamanian. She is a minority, just as the gross majority of Hampton’s student body is.

    In the end, it remains that among the principal reasons for the inception of HBCUs was to advance diversity. Diversity, however, shouldn’t be limited to our skin tones. It should extend to our thinking. Nikole Churchill is Miss Hampton University 2009 – 2010, and as long as she represents herself and my alma mater they way so many other extraordinary Miss Hamptons have in the past, I’ll be proud to have her rock the blue & white all the way to the top. Congratulations, Nikole…GO PIRATES!

  7. I’m a third generation Hamptonian, class of 2001. Miss Hampton has been chosen as Churchill was since the mid-1990’s, before I was a student. If anyone had a problem with that pageant process, it wasn’t made known until now. Of course we should have a queen that is immersed in campus life. However, this wasn’t a requirement for the winning the pageant. And again, its wasn’t an issue until now. Now, her writing that letter may have been a rash decision and a mistake…but not nearly as bad a mistake as shoplifting in Target. I do think students should get to choose a queen, but I don’t think this current process for selecting Miss Hampton should be eliminated. Perhaps students can choose a Miss Homecoming and her and Miss Hampton can represent the school together. I know its just a pageant but I think the possibility of having a Miss Hampton who becomes Miss America is pretty cool. She entered the pageant and won…I don’t see where special concessions were made just for her. It is not her fault that transfer students from the VA beach campus were allowed to compete! How will it look if this process that’s been in place for well over 10 is changed once a non-Black (cuz a white mama don’t make you white IMO) wins? I truly believe with every Hamptonian breath in me that no one would care if that this girl was a transfer student from the VA beach campus if she were black. It certainly wouldn’t make national news. And if it was like it was when I was a student, posters with the contestants names and faces were posted around campus well before the pageant……but of course no one expected her to win. When I attended the Miss HU pageant as a student, there were girls I hadn’t seen on campus before…..if Nikole were black no one would care that they’d never seen her before.

    • Of course if Miss Hampton were black it wouldn’t make the news – Hampton University is a Historically Black College and University. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as: “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” This isn’t some “racist” point that I made up – it’s a fact. Again, Hampton University and HBCU’s are a part of black heritage. With that being said, an unknown African American student that won a pageant would most likely not be questioned because she would be perceived as being a part of the culture. But simply put – white people on an HBCU campus have to work harder – just as I, as an African American in a majority environment have to work harder…to fit in, to adapt, and to be perceived as wanting to be ingratiated in the environment. That would be true if I had attended a white college and it’s true in corporate America. So being that African Americans have had to work HARDER to fit in for YEARS – why is there all this outrage that black college students and alumni are saying that she should have worked HARDER to fit in FIRST before she stepped up to represent Hampton University??? Welcome to the real world. Welcome to what we go through in everyday life. Granted, students have never said this before, because a white woman has never been elected before – which points to the fact that students need a voice in selecting who will represent them.
      This doesn’t make students and alumni racist, it makes us protective of our heritage.
      And, having said all the above, I still stand behind the fact that IF, she had been involved in student activities and an active member on campus and in student life, the student body would have accepted and embraced her. I don’t believe that Hamptonians are as shallow as whole heartedly rejecting someone SOLELY because they are white, because I have seen different.
      Lastly I disagree with you on the Miss Hampton that got arrested for shoplifting – yes she disgraced herself, which in turn tarnished the role but she mostly embarrassed herself and sadly enough made herself look extremely unfortunate. The current Miss Hampton has brought negative attention to the ENTIRE campus (CNN, NBC, ABC etc), affecting present students and proud Hamptonians around the world. Given our RICH history we will now be known for this??

  8. I think that your statements are so well written and articulated! I want to support one of your statements, with the fact that Mr. Pirate is non-black and was elected by the student body.

  9. I think focusing on skin color and being racist are two different things. Throughout this whole issue we are focused on race. It doesn’t make us racist, even those that are unhappy about Miss Churchill being Miss Hampton. This is America and white, black or whatever, we focus on race. It is, unfortunately, the American way as much as some are in denial about it. I think there is this fear that “they” are going to take over “our” schools. At HBCUs where this has happened (whites outnumbering blacks) there were other demographic factors in place. I don’t think she should have posted that letter but I really don’t think it was that bad (call me crazy). And I have made myself go back and read it again and just don’t see how she made the university look soooooo horrible. I think the media would have done it without the letter, especially considering the dailypress’s history with Hampton (they refer to Harvey as a Czar). At the very least the media would have asked “can a non-black student represent an HBCU” as they did now and back in 2006 when Kentucky State elected a White (not biracial) queen. They would never ask if a black student could represent a predominately white school because white is the norm and anyone should be able to represent the norm. and they’d be called racist.
    The Higher Ed Act doesn’t mention enrollment percentages when it defines HBCUs…there at least 3 that are more than 70% percent White which arguably conflicts with their principal missions. And these schools are still eligible to receive the same federal money set aside for HBCUs while schools like Chicago State that are majority black but not an HBCU under the Dept of Ed definition cannot. I think pageant officials would argue that Nikole did work harder in the pageant-or at least she performed better. That was the only established criteria for becoming Miss Hampton whether we like it or not. It was all pretty much based on that one night. I agree a non-black student at an HBCU will have to work harder to fit in. But in the dynamics of the entire society Blacks are still disadvantaged, the other, considered inferior, etc. And this is why even a black graduate of a white school has to work harder in a majority white environment. And why public HBCUs offer scholarships to mediocre white students and get funding bonuses for enrolling more white students while white colleges get away with admitting a few of elite students of color especially with the demise of affirmative action. The media is always going to be harsh towards HBCUs. Look at how it’s reporting on Morehouse. So now Hampton is racist and Morehouse is homophobic..and why would anyone want to go to an black college…they’re mostly black so they must be so segregated….if all white schools are bad then all black schools are too even though no one was EVER legally barred from attending a black school they way they were from white colleges. If an HBCU is featured in mainstream media it is hardly ever a positive story. Her letter added some fuel to the fire, but the negative attention would still be there especially our “post-racial” society. In my opinion:)

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