Why? That’s what a lot of people want to know after reading the recent Vibe magazine article entitled, “The Mean Girls of Morehouse”. Writer Aliya King addressed what she calls “a growing trend of cross-dressing gay students at Morehouse, an all-male Historically Black College.” This is the same institution that produced Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African American mayor and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m not a Morehouse Super Booster. In fact, my son has faced a number of challenges while at Morehouse. But my 30 years in journalism made my “radar” go up with questions about the timing and the motivation behind this negative portrayal directed at one of the few institutions in America dedicated to the strengthening and development of African American men. Since I am also an adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University, I’ve noticed with dismay that most of my classes are 80% female. Where are the brothers? Not in college…even HBCUs.
Naturally, the article has prompted a flurry of opinion columns, blogs and other responses. Morehouse president Dr. Robert Franklin sent out a letter of outrage to students and alumni prior to the publication of the magazine. “Addressing our young men as “girls” is deeply disturbing to me, no matter what the remainder of the article may say,” he wrote. What I don’t understand is why this is an issue now since the central point of the controversy evolves around the enforcement of a dress code policy that is a year and a half old.
I first encountered the cross-dressing group that call themselves “The Plastics” when my oldest son first enrolled at Morehouse. I distinctly remember spotting them in the college’s courtyard, right outside of one of the Dean’s offices. Of course, their flamboyant appearance caught my eye. But since I am a native Atlantan and I’ve worked in television news for more than three decades, I’ve seen almost everything. So, I really didn’t pay them much mind. The Dean who accompanied us addressed them the same way he did other students we met along the way. I didn’t see any signs of taunting or unfair treatment of this group that understandably attracts a lot of attention.
I vividly remember one of my first days as a “Morehouse Mom”. I accompanied my son on the first day he reported for football camp. The minute we stepped in the front door of the lobby of the dorm where the football players were staying, several veteran members of the team politely, but firmly told him that no facial hair and no male earrings were allowed on the team. Since my son was a new transfer, he was not aware of the rules. He grumbled and complained a little as we sat in the lobby waiting for his room assignment. Before the end of the day, he shaved his facial hair and removed the earrings. Once he knew the policy, he knew he had to choice to either comply or deal with the consequences.
The policy had nothing to do with my son’s individual expression. The rules were the rules. It was his choice whether to comply with those rules. It was not a question of whether he was discriminated against or repressing his freedom of expression. We realized that there was a dress code and he had to abide by that code or he had to deal with the consequences.
One of the major complaints of “The Plastics” is that they were being targeted and that other parts of the dress code were not being enforced. I don’t know what Morehouse “The Plastics” are talking about. I have witnessed college administrators admonishing young men to remove their caps when they enter a building or pull up their pants when they are saggin’. I’m not telling you what I have heard, I’m telling you what I know.
Remember, I come from the same city that produced General Larry “Pants on the Ground” Platt. I’ve dealt with the saggin’ pants issue for a number of years. Whenever a young man walks in front of me in a public place, it is not unusual for me to tell him, “I really don’t want to see your drawers”, much to the distress of my sons. “Mama, you are going to get us shot!” they would warn me. In most cases, the young men I addressed were respectful enough to pull up their pants, at least in front of me.
Morehouse is a private institution. They have the right to require certain attire. If you want to attend Morehouse, you know what you are signing up to do…comply by their rules or deal with the consequences. Several members of “The Plastics” have already decided that Morehouse is not the place for them and have enrolled at other schools. As a “Mean Mom of Morehouse” I’m disappointed that the issues of just a few students have tainted the image of other fine young men at Morehouse, including my son. Plus…it’s an old story.