“If only you knew, how much I do, do love you,” sang Patti LaBelle, notably in her 1980s single “If Only You Knew.” Going down in history as one of LaBelle’s finest, the hit song captures the dissonance of a distressed, distant admirer and her longed for, yet seemingly evasive, love interest. This relational disconnect relates to a familiar dynamic on Morehouse’s campus between administration and students.
Like LaBelle’s classic, tension between administration and students is not a new song sung. Akin to a common motif of misunderstanding embedded in virtually every college and/or coming of age movie, in which young voices challenge old ideas, the college still has lingering disagreements from the past.
Since fall 2015, under the direction of Dr. David Rice, the Morehouse administration has set a precedent by beginning to embed students’ opinion to direct Crown Forum. A mandatory, non-academic, credit-bearing course in which all Morehouse students are enrolled for six semesters, Crown Forum meets every Thursday in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, roughly ten times each semester.
According to the Crown Forum website, the course attempts to provide the “means by which students may begin to meet the challenge of developing to their highest potential and form a partnership with the academic program.”
Entrusted with increasing students’ academic alertness, Crown Forum has difficulty holding some students’ attention and appears ineffective in gaining total support. This reservation is primarily driven by remaining student attention upon unresolved concerns that have and continue to fundamentally impact student growth. Such concerns have encouraged some students to erect an alternative to Crown Forum titled, Brown Street Discussions (formerly known as The Real Crown Forum).
“[Brown Street Discussions] are great. Morehouse stresses how Crown Forum intends to grow students’ minds, but BSD opens a door for students to communicate the problems preventing them from growing their minds,” shares Matthew Mena, a senior from Los Angeles, California.
However, some find that although BSD is a good platform for student concerns, its purpose should not be “juxtaposed” with Crown Forum, says Dr. Rice. He believes the Thursday event’s purpose is to be “an extension of chapel… and a space where young men are not reinforced of what they already know, rather provide different speakers, platforms and perspectives to challenge.”
Dr. Rice continues to state that “Crown Forum is not designed such that people come in every week and have dialogues about their misgivings about the institution.” Although, he does find those conversations purposeful and correspondingly brands himself as an advocate for student success.
Serving as a more student-inclusive Crown Forum, BSD attempts to correct a supposed inefficiency in its more established, formal predecessor. BSD advocates the student’s voice, not the administration’s.
Although the surrogate has only had one occurrence, it has been attended by major influencers on campus; one in particular is Student Government Association President, Johnathan Hill. His presence and receptive commentary, seen in an online video published on Periscope, displays the potential impact a platform like BSD can have regarding future student-led discussions with senior administrative leaders.
Various themes are discussed through one forty-minute Periscope video. Double-dealing admission standards and administrative evasiveness are only two adrenalized areas that worry a fair amount.
“Morehouse talks about the brotherhood that you build during New Student Orientation, then the next semester, the majority of [your brothers] will be gone due to circumstances,” says sophomore Sharif LaSonde, speaking to the usual financial or academic dilemmas that a foreseeable portion of students undergo.
“Look to your left. Look to your right,” is a Morehouse saying that conveys the expected parting of some incoming freshman before they arrive to their senior year.
LaSonde continues, “I feel like Morehouse could do better at avoiding those situations from happening. I feel like Morehouse accepts a lot of students who won’t be able to afford it, nor keep up academically. And, they still have them coming back paying money, and then let them go, as they can’t afford to stay.”
LaSonde details a phenomenon that has long been practiced, but recently called out amongst American academic institutions. It begs the question, why are students being approved to attend schools that they cannot afford? Although, when asked whether or not he would voice this concern to administration, he says, “You can’t talk about stuff because [Morehouse will] sweep it under the rug. They put money ahead of most things. Administration first, then student problems.”
What goes unnoticed in the Periscope videos is the lack of contrarian views, perhaps due to the sensationalism and partiality that is represented.
Contrary to LaSonde, Dr. Rice, and other administrators have openly expressed support for student success and availability, having supplementally communicated this message to students through social media outlets and offering office hours.
Learning from previous students like LaSonde, a forceful group of students have been effective by choosing action over reticence. Avery Jackson, a senior from Iowa, is not new to direct action. Having charged an Atlanta University Consortium organization branded as AUC Shut It Down, Jackson and team have leveraged their controversial influence to discuss change with the President of Morehouse College and even debate Don Lemon on CNN.
Jackson believes all members of the institution should have “critical conversation all of the time” and conversation that is “reflective of standard that we want to set at [the institution].” As for BSD being apt to make change, he considers SGA presence at these conversations to “be a good start.”
“If only you knew, how much I do, I do need you,” LaBelle continues in her hit record. Students can be seen in the video defending their demands for certain entitlements that they feel cheated out of. Administrative evasiveness regarding the President’s seemingly formal interactions with the student body, and even an exclusive cafeteria located in Kilgore are two crowd favorites to jab at.
These criticisms even encouraged one student to financially threaten the institution by citing the institution’s desperation for tuition payments. “We need to be willing to take these spaces back,” referring to BSD’s purpose, “because the college would not operate without your tuition and fees.”
Although extreme, students chimed in, sensationalized to the critique and transitioned onward to a new topic.
Having only met once, Brown Street Discussions hopes to make change on campus. The Maroon Tiger, acknowledging all mediums within the AUC that create impact, will continue to keep watch and document any material developments.
Although some attribute Brown Street Discussions (formerly known as The Real Crown Forum) to serve as a direct response to an administrative handling of freshman student, Ty’Khari Rawling’s controversial video on social media, the Maroon Tiger maintains a different view. The dialogues in Brown Street Discussions have previously existed within various spaces and the Maroon Tiger believes such dialogues are not inspired nor guided by one sole occurrence.
Michael C. Scott
Deputy Managing Editor