Ever since information about BET’s new hit HBCU centered show The Quad was released to the public, it has faced unfair media attention. From uncorrelated comparisons to A Different World, a lack of media coverage from traditional HBCU outlets leading up to the premiere date and straight up false characterizations of what the show is about. I’d expect that from critics that don’t understand the HBCU experience, as I discussed in my review of the pilot movie. However, the fact that these mischaracterization of the show came from fellow HBCU advocates and officials is disheartening. There was no critique more discouraging than that of Dr. William R. Harvey, tenured president of Hampton University.
Dr Harvey completely jumped out the window in his critique of The Quad, judging it based on the pilot movie that was released on February 1st. His depiction of the show was that of a warped depiction of HBCU life and administration. He also went as far as to say that The Quad was degrading to the image of HBCU’s in general. I found this comment egregious, seeing that he was in support of Talladega College performing in Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration on January 20th.
“It will be a wonderful learning experience for the students in the band. It will be a teachable moment for them to understand the importance of supporting the leader of the free world, despite one’s political viewpoint.”
The fact that Dr. Harvey, even as an alumnus, was in support of Talladega performing at the event of an individual who is vehemently divisive towards minority groups and has shown open disrespect to black people is rather confusing. In his estimation, The Quad is worse than his alma mater being tokenized? Talledega was clearly used as a political puppet in an effort to depict the image that“black people support Donald Trump.” They were no more usesful than that black people behind Trump at his rally in Florida yesterday with the “Blacks 4 Trump 2020” signs and shirts.
So, what is it about this show that makes it such a horrible depiction of HBCU life in Dr. Harvey’s estimation? Let’s break down, and debunk, the key points in his letter to Debra Lee and BET.
- Power Struggles Do Happen At HBCU’s
“On none of these campuses have I witnessed the actions portrayed in the first episode of ‘The Quad’. As one example only, I know of no president who would allow a band director to talk ad act in the disrespectful, defiant and insubordinate manner that GAMU’s director demonstrated.”
Dr. Harvey missed the whole premise of the storyline between Dr. Fletcher and bnd director Cecil Diamond. The feud between them is allegorical, with Diamond believing that his supposed monetary value to GAMU warrants anyone in his path acquiescing to his demands. So, that doesn’t happen at real life HBCU’s. That dynamic can be seen among some professors with tenure. Some tenured instructors have an arrogant view of their position at their institutions. They feel as if they can treat their students with any type of way and speak to and about their superiors erroneously. Don’t let them not be in a supervisory position! Power struggles exist at every level of the HBCU experience.
Furthermore, did he not see the moves Eva made to regain control in their relationship. Even with the pushback from other GAMU stakeholders that wanted to keep the status quo in regards to the affairs of the way Diamond runs the band program, she was able to outmaneuver Diamond and get the hazing policy in the code of conduct revised. To me that’s an example of a leader that’s committed to the well-being of her students who, against all odds, was a change agent. So, according to Dr. Harvey, that isn’t a great narrative of our HBCU administrators?
If Dr. Harvey has a problem with Dr. Eva Fletcher, I’m pretty sure he hated Dr. Palmer in Stomp The Yard. Let’s not forget that he was petty enough to allow his greek affiliation, his affinity with who his daughter is dating and a decade of feud over a woman to cause him to bully DJ because he was a good dancer. If he wants to nitpick fictional movies, I know he had a draft of a letter back in 2007 about Stomp The Yard! At least Dr. Fletcher is unbought!
2. Highlighting Positive Representations of HBCU’s
In three successive paragraphs in his letter, he talked about what he think The Quad should be. He talked about highlighting individual accomplishments of HBCU’s that produce successful students such as Xavier, Tougaloo and, of course, Hampton. However, the show that he was depicting is more of an HBCU docu-seires than a fictional series that comes on at 10 PM on BET. Because they’re not operating like the HBCU version of Hidden Colors, he rallies against the show and doesn’t see the promise. He didn’t even give the series a chance to showcase the other topics that it deals with. Already we had a storyline on classism and the prison industrial complex with Cedric’s character, a realistic depiction of the “frathouse culture” that is apparent on college campuses that objectifies women as nothing more than their freshman classification and alumni giving. Later on in the season, there’s going to be a storyline about rape. How can you base your characterizations of the show on one single episode?
To grow, we must celebrate our triumphs but also discuss our issues in a productive manner. HBCU’s are not without sin and crafting our own stories will allow us to shift and shape our narrative. The Quad isn’t College Hill, nor is it Sorority Sisters. Treating it as such stifles its potential before it can grow into a show such as Being Mary Jane that was more about Mary Jane Paul’s sexual escapades in the first season, then evolved into an award-worthy satire of the journalism industry. I think that’s the same route The Quad will take. Yes, the storylines are rather salacious but, once they lock in that season 2 deal, they’re taking the already great writing to a brand new level. Dr. Harvey isn’t going to give them that chance though. He’ll see the season preview and call for a boycott.
3. The Quad and HBCU Recruitment
“With much success, HBCUs work extremely hard to attract the very best faculty, students and resources to our institutions. All of our work and success could potentially be harmed by the shameful portrayals of our institutions in ‘The Quad’. What student would want to enroll in an institution like GAMU? Who would want to teach and do research at such and institution? What philanthropist would give to this type of institution? What families would send their children to institutions consumed with such negative behaviors?”
I guess Dr. Harvey didn’t realize that he was talking about Georgia A&M University, a fictional university with sensationalized storylines to build complex characters and keep viewers coming back for more every week. Who said that GAMU represented every HBCU in America? Why is he speaking for student and prospective students of HBCU’s when we love The Quad so far? If it was a cooning display, we would’ve been had #cancelthequad trending already. We would’ve pulled up on BET’s Twitter account and expressed our discontent with how we were depicted before Dr. Harvey could’ve finished watching the first thirty minutes of the pilot that he based his letter on. If it passed our smell test, believe that the show is alright.
I doubt mature adults that have high school seniors or college aged children would look at The Quad and say “Oh no baby! I don’t want you to go to an HBCU. Look at what they do on here!” I doubt any philanthropist would look at The Quad and decide to give their sizeable donation to Harvard instead of Hampton. It’s just a TV Show! Instead of thinking the worst, let’s applaud BET for putting HBCU students and alumni to work on a project that’s sure to add value to their resume. We begged BET to put the spotlight back on our institutions the way they used to back in the day and they came through. What more can we ask of them? Why does there have to be a problem with every attempt that we make to make an outlet for ourselves?
Dr. Harvey is a tremendous president, one of the best in the business today. However, he got this one wrong. He jumped out the window too quickly on his bashing of The Quad. Earlier toady Ebony Magazine posted an exclusive interview with BET president Debra Lee where she publicly responded to the letter at the taping of the 2017 ABFF Honors. She said:
“I talked to Dr. Harvey the other day and we had a good conversation. He started off by saying conversation is key, and I listened to him and he listened to me. I respect his opinion,” Lee said. “My point that I emphasized was that this was a fictional story. It’s not representing any particular college. Fictional TV has drama, you have good guys and bad guys. We had a good conversation and I hope students, administrators and parents will take the issues that we’re dealing with on The Quad seriously and discuss them during and after the show, because we are dealing with serious issues that happen on all campuses, not just HBCUs.”
If anything, Anika Noni Rose (who plays Dr. Eva Fletcher), summed up my thought process perfectly.
“If it’s not for you, turn the station.”
Respectfully, I think that Dr. Harvey has some channel surfing to do.