by Shannon Williams
Vibe magazine recently published an article that is not only controversial, but also evokes a lot of dialogue between supporters, opponents and even those who aren’t quite sure what to think.
In the magazine’s October/November issue is a feature article entitled “The Mean Girls of Morehouse.” For anyone who may not be familiar, Morehouse is the only all-male historically Black institution in America. Located in Atlanta, the college is known for its commitment to produce men who are “spiritually disciplined, intellectually astute and morally wise.” Indeed, Morehouse men have a reputation of being renaissance men who contribute greatly to society. Some of the distinguished college graduates are civil rights advocate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson Jr.; filmmaker Spike Lee; former NAACP board chair Julian Bond; and even the late rapper, Keith “Guru” Elam.
Considering the reputation and standards of Morehouse, one can understand how Vibe’s article was a bit off-putting to some.
The main subjects of “The Mean Girls of Morehouse” piece are a small group of current and former Morehouse students who are openly gay and oppose an “Appropriate Attire Policy” that was enacted a year and a half ago. Among the items in the Appropriate Attire Policy that were prohibited were wearing caps, do-rags, “grillz” or sagging pants. The part of the policy that the subjects in the Vibe article opposed was the standard that prohibited wearing women’s clothing—no dresses, skirts, tops, tunics, purses or pumps.
While I certainly believe that an individual’s sexual orientation is their personal business, I also understand the importance of businesses, organizations and schools maintaining certain standards.
Despite what the Vibe article suggests, Morehouse College is not anti-gay. As a matter of fact, in a statement, Morehouse President Robert Franklin said Morehouse does not discriminate against certain groups of students, “specifically gay, transgendered and bisexual men. We have worked diligently to ensure that Morehouse is a safe, inclusive and respectful community with a strong commitment to social justice, diversity, and respectful tolerance.”
The thing that’s so disappointing to me about Vibe’s article is the focus and its timeliness (or lack thereof). The article primarily spoke with a few men who dressed in women’s clothing. They didn’t talk to straight students, nor did they talk with the college president. In addition, the policy was implemented well over a year ago, yet the article suggests it happened recently.
As media outlets, we have to practice responsible journalism. I’m not saying speaking with gay individuals isn’t responsible writing, because it certainly can be (though it wasn’t in Vibe’s case). I mean it’s important to be fair, balanced, researched well and also think of the impact such unjust defamation can bring to an individual or entity.
Morehouse has a rich history in this country—not just amongst HBCUs, but traditional colleges as well. Sensationalizing a story for the sake of increasing readership was not a wise choice for Vibe. If anything, this article reduced whatever credibility the publication may have had.
Another aspect to consider is that all the gay men in the article were born male and consider themselves men, despite their lifestyle. I find it incredibly disrespectful to them, Morehouse and Black people in general to use the headline “The Mean Girls of Morehouse.” Girls? Is Vibe serious? How profoundly insulting.
Morehouse College isn’t saying that the men can’t be homosexual, the school is simply asking them (and those who wear do-rags, oversized shirts, sagging pants and grillz) to be respectful of the school’s attire policy. A policy that to some degree or another has been in effect since the inception of Morehouse.
Kudos to Morehouse for setting high standards for years. Boo to Vibe for its sensationalized attempt to defame a noteworthy institution. Vibe also gets an extra boo for forgetting the standards we were all taught as budding journalists.
(You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at email@example.com.)