Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Is Karrine Controversial?


Some folks have expressed concern about Karrine Steffans speaking at Dillard. She just published a book that deals specifically with domestic violence, and since October is domestic violence awareness month, and colleges and university have been admonished to make sure we discuss domestic violence, teen dating violence, and sexual assault, she is the perfect guest. Here is the blurb for the book:

             For a decade, Confessions of a Video Vixen author Karrine Steffans and the details of her private life have been the subject of debate and scrutiny. But, as gossipmongers and critics speculated, assumed, and manufactured tall tales about the New York Times bestselling author, Karrine hid herself and her truth from the world, imprisoned by an abusive marriage and the judgments of society. In Vindicated: Confessions of a Video Vixen, Ten Years Later, Karrine takes readers into the belly of the beast as she harrowingly chronicles the systematic breakdown of her mind, body, and spirit at the hand of one man and the events that propelled her back to prosperity after losing everything. She candidly shares her struggle to be what others demand, her obsession with the American dream, her desperation to appear normal, the lengths to which she went, and the price she paid for it all.

Her visit will also link with my class. For the past year my class of hip hop, sex, gender, and ethical behavior has wrestled with music and lyrics that convey values that trouble many, and how do we make meaning from these words, what do they way about who we are, how do we treat women, can we explain the homophobia and homoeroticism, etc. She Skyped in last fall and we have another 50 students come sit in the session, so I know she is a popular speaker for students.

Yes, I could have found someone from one of the domestic violence agencies to come speak. We already do and have been doing sessions with NOPD & Crescent City Women, Infants and Children Services for 4 years in a row; they provide great information. Guess what? Very few people attend. No one is offended, but we're not making a large impact with that event. And yet we'll keep doing it- there is value in small groups.

I have known Karrine for almost a decade. She spoke during the first season of Bless the Mic at Philander Smith College (and clearly was NOT the most controversial speaker- I hosted Ann Coulter 4 months before she came! I later hosted Ward Connerly, Richard Murray and Kwame Kilpatrick). She is honest and eloquent, and her celebrity ensures people come out to get the information, which is the point of the session.

This present "controversy" reminds me of another. I got flack when I had Ne Ne Leakes speak during domestic violence month one year.

People thought I was crazy, but none of them read her book, appropriately titled "Never Make The Same Mistake Twice" about being in an abusive relationship while in college, one where her boyfriend would place a gun on the night stand and he physically beat her. As you can see, I did read the book.

That night we had a student come in front of the 700 people there (standing room only as you can see below), baby in her arm, crying and saying that she was in that situation right now. We were able to get the proper services to her and avoid a tragedy.

Yet some folks were caught up in the messenger, not the message.

But the messenger DOES matter, and to get today's students to hear the message, you have to have the right messenger. And that means being willing to think differently, even with an edge.

Brain Food is a SERIES! It means there will be a variety of voices. Conservative Jason Riley has been here. Social justice activist Rev. Jim Wallis has. Tavis Smiley and Michael Eric Dyson have been with us (and both will be back in 2016). So have Sunny Hostin, Glenda Hatchett, Susan Taylor, Iyanla Vanzant, Charles Blow, Misty Copeland, Clarence Jones, Jeff Johnson, Michael Steele, Sampson Davis, Joan Morgan, Joyce Roche, Benjamin Crump, and Kirk Franklin. Lots of voices, lots of ideas.

Heck, today Cornel West would be controversial these days (ask Ta Nehesi Coates and Toni Morrison)- and he's been here too.

I don't expect everyone to love every speaker, just like everyone doesn't like all types of food. I guess this Karrine Steffans dust up means some of my people are picky Brain Food eaters! But don't let some false sense of decorum cause you judge others. In fact, we've had a speaker here, who has been to all kinds of schools across the country, that at the time of their speech we heralded them as a philanthropist, role model, etc. when we did not know about the crimes they were committing at the same time.

Today we wouldn't want this person anywhere near us. It really is a different world....

Yet someone who has been honest and transparent their entire public life is somehow unsuitable. The whole incident reminds me of a great Bible story, taken from Matthew 9:19-13. Here is the passage from Eugene Peterson's Message version:

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.
10-11 Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”
12-13 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

I love this translation! "I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."

In short, I deal with real issues in an honest way. And so does Karrine Steffans, which is why she will be our guest. If you don't like her, don't come. Bryan Stevenson, author of the phenomenal "Just Mercy," will be here in November to talk about justice issues. And believe me, there are people offended by his willingness to address disparities in justice by race. And there will be other speakers -  because it is a SERIES (a number of things or events that are arranged or happen one after the other).

Now, let me find Donald Trump's phone number....

The Prez

Monday, July 20, 2015

I think there is some Brain Food on the way...

We are about 2 months away from the new season of Brain Food. We're starting off dealing with very important issues on college campuses- hazing and domestic violence. Both topics have been in the news a lot lately and colleges and universities are being challenged to do a better job of educating students (and the broader community) on these issues.

Dillard University will lead the way in Louisiana.

The Prez

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Summer might be slow, but we've racked up a few awards lately.

First, our athletic director was named today as the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators 2015 administrator of the year. She's won numerous award this year, as well as completed a doctorate.

Last week our board chair was named HBCU alumnus of the year by HBCU Digest. Mike has been working on a landmark HBCU case in Maryland dealing with equitable funding.

Finally, Money Magazine unveiled their college rankings. I'm not a true rankings fan since most focus on inputs, but many say Money does a better job focusing on quality of education, affordability and outcomes. Only 736 out of over 4,000 colleges and universities made the cut, so being #625 places us in the top 15% of all schools.  Only 6 Louisiana schools made the list (out of 20+ 4 year schools). We were #4 in Louisiana right behind Tulane which came in at #620, and the only Louisiana school that got a grade of A for value-added, which assesses our performance with students from similar backgrounds nationally.

Which is something I've said all the while. We do a great job helping students perform beyond usual metrics.