Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Brain Food: Karrine Steffans

The day finally arrived. After the outrage, on line petition, surveys, etc., Karrine Steffans made it to Dillard, and amazingly, one week later, the place is still standing! Definitely a lot I could say, and will another time. But for now, I want to focus on what was a powerful day. We began with a visit to my PHI444 class (hip hop, sex, gender and ethical behavior). Hip Hop is a great vehicle to discuss this because this is an industry where women are routinely exploited.
Karrine is the outlier in that she flipped the script. One of the main questions in the class was her thoughts about it being right (ethically) for her to name names. She questioned why she is attacked for doing what the rappers do in their songs, providing real examples. Her point was that she too was giving them hip hop- just without a beat.
Our special guest was Miss Louisiana 2015, Candice Bennatt. Candice set the tone for the evening quickly since domestic violence was her platform. She shared that she was a victim of teen dating violence. At 16 she suffered a broken jaw and busted ear drum. You could feel the impact of her words in the standing room only crowd. I was pleased she was able to spend a few minutes with us- she is a second year law student at Loyola.

Karrine then came up for the keynote. She broken down violence as a language and started with how judgment is a language that she is all too familiar with. She openly referenced the opposition to her visit, sharing candidly how could those who attacked her by judging her and through social media, trying to tear her down, were essentially too late- her mother had done far worse to her when she was 6. She learned that language early.

But she indicates that when we tear people down we create cracks for predators to enter their lives. So every time we tell people they aren't good enough, or don't look good a certain way, we are using a judgment language that can aid abusers.

She wondered out loud why people instead don't ask her, "What happened to you? Who said what to make you who you are today?"

In a speech that kept a packed room eerily quiet, she recounted the abuse she endured in relationships, but understanding now that the abusers spoke her language. She offered that when people saw why didn't you just leave, is like telling someone to go to Germany and start speaking German- it is not your language. But she asked us to remember that abusers are victims too; it is the language that they learned as kids.

Her warning to us was to be careful what you say to others. Many reckless things were said about her (and me too) after it was announced she would be visiting. But I am thankful for that experience because it helped me to understand why domestic violence is so prevalent in our communities. Our willingness to freely demonize people without knowing their stories sets predators up to do what they do. Hopefully some folks will be slow to judge going forward.

After we finished, Karrine spoke to individuals another 90 minutes, many whispering their shared stories.

And this is why Karrine Steffans came to Dillard, and can come back whenever she likes.

The Prez

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Founder's Day 2015 with Garrett Morris '58

Recently we celebrated Founder's Day. For Dillard, it is traditionally near the birthday of James Hardy Dillard (October 24th). So this is an important day of remembrance for the university. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of Lawless Memorial Chapel, and before the main program we held a rededication program.

Since this year also marks the 80th anniversary of the theater program, we were pleased to welcome New Orleans native and Dillard alum Garrett Morris. Watching the students respond to him made me think that he was the perfect embodiment of this day. He was an original case member of Saturday Night Live, so their parents and grandparents would remember that. They have known him through reruns of Martin and The Jamie Foxx Show (which are during my time). So of course he entertained us for the afternoon.

And for me, this day is the beginning of the countdown toward graduation, the first time seniors get to wear regalia. It is always my hope that they start planning in earnest for their future, so this day puts them in that mindset.

The Prez

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Campus Royalty

This weekend we crowned our new campus royalty. Miss Dillard is Kamara Dunn from Bakersfield, California, and Mr. Dillard is Dakarai Moton from New Orleans. Both are exceptional students and great representatives of Dillard students. We had a great homecoming weekend and we honored them in exceptional fashion.

The Prez

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#AmericasCollegeProm​ise & #UNCF

Today the UNCF led a "tweetstorm" to garner awareness and support for the America's College Promise Act. If Congress will support this legislation, it would greatly enhance the resources for students attending HBCUs. As you have heard there is considerable energy around making community college free. But for Black students, even if they need remediation, their chances of getting a 4 year degree are 4 times greater by starting at a 4 year school.

Graduation rates will be improved if students have more financial resources. HBCUs generally have enrollments that are greater than 60% Pell eligible, meaning those students come from families earning less than $40,000 a year. This new act could add potentially $8K a year to those students which will improve graduation rates.

This past weekend the UNCF New Orleans hosted its walk for education. New Orleans is home to 2 high performing UNCF schools- Dillard and Xavier. So combining the already great work of UNCF with this new act and we will greatly change the trajectories of many college students.

Contact your members of congress and ask them to support this act!

The Prez

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dr. Monica Miller

On September 30th my class hosted Dr. Monica Miller from Lehigh University. She is a professor of religion and Africana studies, and provided two lectures. The first was about the Black church and hip hop, and the second is about language in hip hop with respect to women. Both talks were outstanding. I was excited for this young scholar to interact with my class and the larger community.

Also the lecture was sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. I think the interesting idea was the one of new black godz, essentially the way hip hop artists use language from the 5 percenters to make sure their humanity is recognized.

We'll have to bring her back soon.

The Prez

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hazing Prevention Week

I've served as an expert witness in hazing cases since 1998, so I have to keep up with hazing. This actually started when I was coordinator of Greek Life at Emory where I was responsible for much of the hazing training. So over the years I have not only trained students on my campus, but across the nation. That week I spoke at both North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central.

So a year ago I was surprised to get an e-mail from Michael Morton, former fraternity chapter president and SGA president who spent 2 years in jail- for hazing. In part, he said he wanted to play a role in helping to warn students about the consequences. It was a strong letter and I promised I would find an opportunity for him.

I had been appointed as chair of a hazing task force by the North American Inter-fraternity conference, and for our summer meeting I asked Michael if he would Skype in. My task force was blown away. Although the vast majority were members of predominantly white fraternities, Michael's story resonated with all of us. At that point I knew I needed to bring him to New Orleans.

Michael graciously accepted and during the last week of September, hazing prevention week, he spoke to over 600 students from several campuses about his experience. I don't want to retell the story- it is one that all college students should hear in person. So I am asking that you feel free to contact me so I can connect you with him and have him speak on your campus. Michael gave one of the most personal hazing experiences I have ever heard- absolutely phenomenal!

I will share this. I believe in lectures because they provide spaces for people to come together. The beauty is that you never know who might show up. Before the lecture Michael indicated he saw the father of the young man injured at FAMU which lead to his arrest and jailing. I was thinking that couldn't possible be true- he lives in Atlanta.

Well, after the event a man approached me and said he was the father of the student injured! He was also Michael's fraternity brother. Okay, I was a little nervous but he indicated he had no ill will. In fact, back then he and I spoke on the phone as the lawyers considered me as an expert witness for that case (I was not involved though). So when just about everyone was gone I saw these men (and a third fraternity brother who drove the father to New Orleans) have a heart to heart talk.

It really was a beautiful moment of reconciliation.

And that's why Brain Food is important.

The Prez