Last week, the earth tilted on its axis when Vibe magazine published a piece called 'The Mean Girls of Morehouse.' The article highlighted a tiny group of Morehouse students who prefer to dress in women's clothing. Prior to the release of the piece, the president of Morehouse College sent out an outraged letter to his alumni decrying an article that he admitted he had not read.
The Vibe article was precipitated by last year's controversy over Morehouse's dress code. Excuse me, the "Appropriate Attire Policy." The policy was targeted at a tiny minority of students on campus. By tiny, I mean FIVE:
"The dress-wearing ban is aimed at a small part of the private college's 2,700-member student body," said Dr. William Bynum, vice president for Student Services.
"We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men," he said. (CNN)
Though the policy had 11 "expectations" for students, the one which received the most attention and the one for which all the other expectations were written to disguise, is a ban on wearing clothing usually worn by women such as dresses, tops tunics, purses and pumps. In short, there is no room for androgyny at Morehouse.
Dr. Franklin and his staff remain steadfast in couching the dress code as some type of attempt in molding and shaping students for "leadership " Leading what? Leading where?
If you do it right, the people you meet in college transform your life and add a layer of richness you otherwise would have been denied. In managing these relationships with people who are different than you, you begin to deal with people on an individual basis and form conclusions based on character and not geography, gender, race, national origin, or yes, sexuality. And of course, this tolerance for differences prepared you for the work world in which you will encounter these differences and be forced to harness them for creative production.
Which brings us back to what exactly it is that Morehouse College is "teaching" its students about "leadership" and power. Its president states:
"And while the world grapples with complicated issues related to economic disparity, racism, sustainability, and diversity and tolerance, Morehouse stands in the breach, seeking answers to the pressing issues facing our young men, encouraging dialogue and expecting excellence." (Dr. Franklin)
Are these the values Morehouse is really extolling? What about some other values? Such as, the strong will always be able to prey upon the weak? Majority rules? It's okay to ostracize those who look an act different for systematic discrimination and abuse? When confronted with bigotry, denial and righteous indignation are acceptable replies from leadership? Five students dressed as women have the ability to cripple and entire university? That Morehouse can be brought low by high heels?The status quo is sacred and conviction no longer requires courage?In the end, isn't the "Appropriate Attire Policy" a cop out? The exact opposite of leadership? Instead of confronting differences and offering up a lesson in diversity, inclusion and creativity, we write a new memo and a policy targeting a tiny outnumbered group. What a way to "grapple with complexity" and "seek answers."
If the men of Morehouse are to become the leaders of tomorrow, whether in business, education or politics, they will need much better tools for dealing with the true complexity of human relations.