Morehouse Puts Its Freshly Polished, Stacy Adams-Covered Foot Down

A few friends of mine have called me to the carpet on a certain issue pertaining my alma mater, Morehouse College. The school that I so dearly love is instituting a new dress code this month. While I saw many of my fellow alums complain vehemently about the new dress code, I frankly didn't care much about it. I felt like many upper middle class Americans in their 40s and have well-paid jobs with health benefits. Huh? What do you mean there are 25-30 million people who don't have healthcare in America? They're probably just lazy and not suffering as a result of a price-gouging system and the worst economic conditions since the 1930s. Like a libertarian, I simply thought, "I got mine, and I don't care who hasn't gotten his yet." But as time wore on, friends of mine have wondered what I thought on the subject, and the more I thought about this new "appropriate attire policy," the more I thought how wrong this was.

Of course, I'm not the only person who has commented on this policy. Those in favor of the policy seem to sound a lot like conservatives' opinions about liberals during the Bush 43 years. If they don't like the policy, they can just leave. Jonathan Pitts-Wiley (who I generally like) said this. Check the comments page on any story on this and you'll see the battle here on this policy. There's clearly a controversy pertaining to the homophobic elements. I'll get to that.

This story has made national news. CNN has covered it quite a bit 1) because it's interesting, 2) because it's easy to report on a story happening in the same city as your headquarters, and 3) because 24 hour news doesn't fill itself up pointlessly. Black people, known to be more conservative than most people in America other than WASPs, have heralded this policy as a step in the right direction. To a certain extent, this is right. Black youth do need to make positive strides in the workplace. They need to respect themselves and others. They should have good general appearance. For the classroom setting, many of these rules are good rules.

This policy is not about the classroom setting; this policy legislates overall behavior and campus life, something which I've said for years has seriously been lacking in the Atlanta University Center. Those who know me or have read my work for some time have known about how serious I am about wearing my hats. I've gone into the history of hat etiquette and I've combat administrators because of it. I am doing so here now, again.

Enacting a strict dress policy would make sense to restore professionalism in the classroom (which is why I typically removed my hat before entering a classroom while in college and why I typically do so when entering offices, but not office buildings, and why I do so at a dinner table, but not immediately upon entering a restaurant and other things of that ilk). Yet, when one lives on a campus, that campus is his home. The dining hall is his kitchen. The dorm lounges are his living rooms. The grassy areas are his front and back lawns. The library, his library. His classmates, his brothers. We are all part of one family in Morehouse College, at least that's what they instilled in us. This is our House. Should we not be comfortable? Should there not be a distinction between the professionalism of the classroom and the informality of campus life? Eliminating that distinction on one end harms the classroom environment. I can understand the need to stop sagging pants and do-rags when you're listening to Tobe Johnson talk about the importance of the 14th Amendment. But swinging the pendulum this drastically on the other end is creating an entirely different backlash. It makes a school policy national news and provides a publicity I'm pretty sure the school doesn't want, especially after the checkered past Morehouse has seemed to have since the turn of this century.

This new policy only perpetuates the idea that the black man is always on display, but now we have no control over the performance. As explained in this video by CNN, apparently all Morehouse Men should be dressed up because there could always be visitors.

But last I heard, other colleges don't have these standards. Graduate programs and Fortune 500 companies scout out other larger institutions that also have sagging students and keg parties and streaking, things that Morehouse wouldn't even dream of tolerating. I think any other standard school isn't concerned about this. And while I've heard time and again that black people have to work twice as hard to get half as far in white America, that doesn't mean I have to throw on a pair of jeans because I want a bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning in my own kitchen.

And let's look at the foundation of this policy. It treats men as children, which is rather belittling. Even further, it was in part composed by an 11-year-old, which is definitely belittling. And the homophobic elements specifically target five students on campus, which is belittling on an overall ethical level and in a power-hungry kind of way. But an even larger point is that it commodifies the idea of the Morehouse Man yet again. I have warned the campus of this before. This policy says there is one look of a Morehouse Man and it should be followed at all times. It's only a matter of time before the football team is playing in Stacy Adams'. They would probably have the exact same win/loss rate (or loss/loss rate, really).

There are multiple reasons why this is harmful. This policy was enacted because the current look of Morehouse was thought to be making a bad public image, and this is likely the case. Although, I doubt the solution to increasing interest in HBCUs in the 21st Century is "make more rules." When you have schools giving away iPods, using technology in new and inspiring ways, adding various facilities and restaurants to campus to make the atmosphere more appealing, and building new dorms and classrooms constantly, a "your pants must fit" rule isn't going to bring little Hakim over from Emory.

Conservatism has been instrumental in the history of the Atlanta University Center. The deep religious backgrounds of Morehouse, Spelman, Clark College, Atlanta University, Morris Brown, and the Interdenominational Theological Center have built the AUC into what is considered to some the "black ivy league." But what these institutions have failed to realize is that their less racially homogeneous counterpart (and source of their inferiority complex) has adapted over the years and so must the AUC. If Princeton can dole out more scholarships to all its poor students and Harvard can have a female president, surely Morehouse can let the campus life be campus life and the classroom be the classroom, and it can also change with the times. One comment I ran across on Facebook noted that if Spelman were to have done this, Spelman women would still not be allowed to wear jeans. There's a problem when Oral Roberts and Liberty University has the option of looking at my alma mater and saying, "yeah, you guys seem pretty strict." While Conservatism has cemented the AUC with strong values, it has also frozen those values in time. When Benjamin Elijah Mays said long ago that "A Morehouse Man always carries a pen," could that still be relevant in the age of the smartphone? When John Hope made the first housing project in America during the early 20th Century, could this still be considered a shining accomplishment on his resume when you look at those same closed down housing projects now?

If there is any conservative value these institutions must hold, it must be to the notion presented in Ecclesiastes that everything has its season. That while most wouldn't want to see a guy in a dress, what he does after hours very well should be his business. Whether or not one believes that to be a sin against God, that's still an issue he should take up with God personally and it is not an individual's job to be a fruit inspector (no pun intended, it's a biblical reference). And it certainly isn't an institution's job. GLBTQ organizations (how many more letters are they going to add?) are up in arms about this, and rightfully so. This is a violation of freedom of expression, even though this is a private institution and has the right to making a policy like this. But they're up in arms because the policy is wrong, according to their own special interest. I'm saying the policy is wrong according to my own special interest and I admit logically that other points that I don't fully follow have a lot of ground to stand on here.

At an institution of higher learning, the classroom is where the cultivation mostly happens. Outside of that, Morehouse should teach men to be men, but they should be their own men. I learned that from the experiences I got of Morehouse, not solely from what Morehouse tried to teach me. Had it been up to the majority of the administration, I certainly wouldn't have pestered them in the press as often and I'd be aspiring to work at some investment firm where I'd be quickly laid off because I just knew there was something fishy going on in the business world. But some of what made my college experience so great was that I had to make it myself, which included being far away from my own school as much as I possibly could. I seriously doubt the students at Arizona State do that.

This swinging of the pendulum so drastically to the other side is a bad move. It only gives bad attention to a still ailing school. It makes old fogey parents push their sons to Morehouse even harder than before while those same sons look more for a school that will enrich both his mind and his spirit. Academia isn't exactly in the place right now to make a school less appealing and this is what's happening to Morehouse. In essence, this policy was necessary but not in this form, not in this way, not to this extent, and certainly not with this spotlight.


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