My mother called me last week with the story of the white Morehouse valedictorian. I didn’t think the story important enough to write about, because on its face the story reminded me of the not so famous White Tiger. We’ve got all types of stories about black students overcoming tremendous adversity to become successful, at Morehouse and other places like it. It’s news…but not really.
But I just attended a graduation party. The young graduate’s older brother is a Morehouse man, and is going to transfer as soon as he can. Why? Because he isn’t comfortable with the growing number of gay men who have chosen to call Morehouse home. In 2002 Morehouse student Aaron Price beat fellow student Gregory Love with a baseball bat because Love peeked his head in the shower stall that Price was using. He received a sentence of ten years, but this sentence was recently reduced. In response to the attack on Love, Morehouse administrators have adopted at least one policy designed to re-establish “masculine norms”. Students now have to wear a maroon blazer every day. As this young brother writes, other policies have been considered. The frame of tolerance is a problem here–these men should not be simply tolerated but should be given the space needed to grow as men and as students. But to say this situation is complicated is to understate the reality.
I’ve spent some time on black campuses. And by the accepted visible presence of female same-sex couples our ideas are changing. But accepting (not tolerating, accepting) gay men represents another terrain entirely. Not just because of the current moral panic known as the “down low” phenomenon. But because of very conservative ideas about the normative role of black men in black communities, combined with ideas about the role of institutions like Morehouse–institutions that were tasked not just to serve black men, but to develop black men. And “develop” has a very specific political and social meaning here. To “develop” a black man means to prepare him to be ready to accept his role as head of the house, as father to black children, as husband to a (black) wife.
From what I understand if a Morehouse Man marries a Spelman Woman, he can use Morehouse facilities for free. This is likely only one of the many institutional practices that embed ideas about development and gender within both Morehouse and Spelman. Other practices include recruiting tactics that emphasize (heterosexual) masculinity, and fundraising tactics among alumni that emphasize tradition–which by its very nature emphasizes heterosexual norms.
How would you deal with this issue as a college administrator? As a heterosexual student? As a gay/bisexual student? As a parent?