Shortly after the debut of Black Entertainment Television’s new drama ‘The Quad,’ officials from historically black colleges and universities quietly steamed about perceived inequities in the show’s representation of HBCU culture.
Today, the complaints of many were outlined in a single letter written to BET President Debra Lee penned by Hampton University President William R. Harvey, who slammed the series for its misrepresentation of HBCU leadership, student culture and the challenges faced by the institutions.
Devoid of any reference to academics, The Quad is about a president who is promiscuous, trustees who are unwilling to deal with a rogue band director, and a band director who condones criminal activity on the part of his drum major,” Dr. Harvey wrote. “The Quad will lead many to believe that HBCUs exist because of their marching bands; that our presidents are unethical; that our boards are dysfunctional and have misplaced priorities; that our faculty, students and administrators are driven by sex, alcohol, marijuana, low self-esteem, parties and a preoccupation with music; that it is acceptable to disrespect women; that university policy can be set by a band director; and that there are no standards of conduct or penalties for bad behavior. This depiction seems more analogous to a disgruntled, adolescent and unrealistic point of view that some may have. It also feeds a false narrative about the irrelevance of HBCUs.”
It’s hard to argue with Dr. Harvey’s view of ‘The Quad,’ which has attracted a growing audience by being well-stocked on drama, but low on its promise to showcase ‘real HBCU culture’ through Georgia A&M University’s mantra of ‘Pride, Tradition and Excellence.’ It is particularly telling that Dr. Harvey, no stranger to strong takes on national HBCU issues, is particularly vexed by the presentation of female leadership at the fictional GAMU.
In 39 years as Hampton president, Dr. Harvey has earned a reputation for his pipeline of HBCU presidents, several of which have been women. Of the 10 seats on Dr. Harvey’s executive cabinet, eight positions are held by black women.
The three-page letter, dated on Feb. 3 and made available to a select number of HBCU presidents around the country, outlines Dr. Harvey’s concerns with the timing of its debut, and a seeming conspiracy to depict HBCUs in a negative light.
“We cannot afford this kind of storytelling. It amounts to the type of ‘fake news’ that is prevalent today. You see, all that most people know about HBCUs is what they see on television. What I saw on BET February 1st was not accurate; rather, it was a bogus representation of very important and historic institutions.”
Several HBCU presidents wrote to Dr. Harvey after receiving the letter, commending him for a ‘courageous’ and “eloquent” response to the negative images represented in The Quad, which aired its third episode last night. But equally important to the growing HBCU executive reaction is the notion that it was easy to see this coming. I talked about it on a recent edition of HBCU Digest Radio, and the prospect the show was building to draw criticism from influential HBCU voices.
We knew from the first episode that this was not a good look for our schools.
We knew that when actors began defending ‘The Quad’’ as a “human” show that just happens to take place at an HBCU, we were in for a controversial debut season.
And now we know that the G.O.A.T. of HBCU leadership hates it, along with a growing delegation of presidential peers. Only one thing can save ‘The Quad’ as a potential vehicle of support for black colleges; all of its creative directors and producers need to disclose just how bad this show is going to be for the remainder of the season, apologize publicly and commit to a stronger, more representative second season with thorough and unchallenged review of consultants who can do what test audiences obviously didn’t; warn BET about the hell they were walking into during Black History Month.
And finally; fire every creative director responsible for greenlighting “The Quad” in its current form.
If BET, Viacom or whatever corporate individual responsible for ‘The Quad’ doesn’t do these things, or believes that buzz on Twitter is enough to weather a storm of HBCU presidents being displeased by their culture and livelihoods being misrepresented by a network which pledged to avoid the cultural treason of its past, then what comes next is the real HBCU drama. Presidents and alumni will call for boycotts. And unlike the ‘Sorority Sisters’ fiasco on VH1, BET has no ratchet content to replace what black elite set out to reject.
BET promised us an inside look into the world of HBCUs. And unfortunately, they earned just that.