Hampton University President Says 'The Quad' Doesn't Correctly Represent HBCUs

Feb 19, 2017
Originally published on February 19, 2017 7:17 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Earlier this month, we told you about "The Quad." It's BET's latest scripted offering set at a fictional historically black university Georgia A&M. We spoke with the star of this series, the celebrated Broadway and movie actress Anika Noni Rose, herself a graduate of an HBCU. And she told us the series was meant to showcase both the glories and the challenges of the HBCU experience.

But since then, the longtime leader of a real HBCU Hampton University President William Harvey has published a scathing open letter about the show. And he called upon the show to change its tone and for other graduates of HBCUs to speak out. Because we highlighted the program earlier, we thought it fair to reach out to President Harvey to hear more about his concerns, and he's with us now from Hampton's radio station WHOV. President Harvey, thanks so much for speaking with us.

WILLIAM HARVEY: You're very welcome.

MARTIN: So in your letter, you cite many, many objections that you have about the show - the fact that there's only one scene actually taking place in a classroom in the premiere segment, for example, the fact that the band director thinks he runs the college. You say in your letter (reading) it depicts a place where faculty, students and administrators are driven by sex, alcohol, marijuana, low self-esteem, parties and a preoccupation with music.

So it's a long list. But if you could sum it up, what is the thing that pushed your buttons most, that pushed you to write that letter?

HARVEY: Well, actually, you said it in your opening. To me, it is a incredibly disparaging depiction of HBCUs. It's largely void of academics, yet it salaciously includes scenes about the president having sex with a student, an insubordinate band director. And I would say to you that if my band director told me what that band director indicated, he'd been fired before he left my office. And I suspect that that would have happened in most instances.

MARTIN: I mentioned earlier we spoke with the star of the program Anika Noni Rose, who plays the university's president. You know, she is also a graduate of an HBCU. When we ask her how her experience may have informed the role, you know, her argument is to the question of balance that it's important to address some of the things that are addressed in this series like bullying or hazing and things of that sort. I'll just play a clip from our conversation earlier.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ANIKA NONI ROSE: I think it's really important when we talk about showcasing a particular piece of culture that we don't dip it in sugar. I think if we're only showing one side of it, if we're only showing the elevated sections of it, then we aren't telling a truth. We aren't telling the story.

MARTIN: How would you respond to that?

HARVEY: Well, she's absolutely correct. And they're only showing one side. She's making my argument. She's showing only this salacious side. So why not show both sides?

MARTIN: The president of BET, Debra Lee, the chair was approached by Ebony magazine for comment about this, and she made the argument that it is fiction. And if you don't like it, don't watch it.

HARVEY: Well, you know, you're right. But despite the fact it's fiction, it's real life. So even though it's fictional, why not show a balance?

MARTIN: That's William Harvey. He's the president of Hampton University, an historically black university in Virginia. He wrote a letter to BET citing his objections to their new scripted series "The Quad." We spoke to him from WHOV at Hampton University. President Harvey, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HARVEY: You're very welcome and I look forward to speaking with you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.