Morgan State deserves more than trash talk from David Wilson

Last weekend Morgan State University celebrated its first full-scale homecoming since 2019 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The event had a new take on old Morgan Spirit; a new rule for alumni and guests to be off the campus by 7 p.m., a perfect fall sunset in Charm City.

Staples of the Morgan homecoming experience were cut out or cut short from the fraternity and sorority suites in Carnegie and Jenkins Halls to the expansive all-day and night tailgates in multiple parts of the campus and adjacent shopping areas. Bears everywhere attributed the changes as an attempt to prevent a repeat of violence from the 2021 celebration, a shooting of an MSU student on campus.

The effort didn’t work. A non-student was shot on campus in what school officials called an “unsanctioned homecoming after-party.

Morgan State University is the premier HBCU in the state of Maryland and one of the ten most comprehensive HBCUs in the nation in the scope of its rigorous academic programs, increasing research capacity, and deep history as a pillar Black history and achievement, particularly in Maryland. These realities are in major conflict with others; why has Morgan had two shootings on campus in less than three months? Why has Morgan had shootings on campus or Morgan-affiliated properties in 2012, 2018, 2019 and 2021, and several students stabbed or shot to death not far from campus over the last decade?

Is the city, and more specifically the neighborhoods surrounding the scenic Northeast Baltimore campus, preying on Morgan students and alumni? And how is Morgan President David Wilson responding to these tragedies?

Trash. Literal trash if you believe a letter he wrote to the campus following the latest shooting incident.

“With all of the aforementioned quite evident and exemplary of the day’s events, I was, however, dismayed by what was left in the aftermath. Following the conclusion of all campus related activities at 7 p.m., what transpired as law enforcement worked to clear the campus, left a lot to be desired. Hearing of the grievous incident that occurred later in the evening, I returned to our beloved campus only to be greeted by the deplorable condition the grounds were left in. It was disappointing to witness the apparent acts of disrespect to our culture, our history and our traditions. This is not how one treats a National Treasure…this is not how Morgan State University deserves to be treated.”

“We have invested and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in capital resources to elevate our campus to preeminence. We have worked very hard to make our campus one that alumni and students can be proud of for generations to come. Despite this, it is quite evident that some individuals are neither respecting our legacy, nor our hallowed grounds. The amount of garbage strewn across the campus’ landscape, despite having available receptacles for use throughout, was disheartening. On top of the conditions of the grounds was the unfortunate and unwelcomed news of a shooting on campus outside of the University Student Center. While this incident is under current investigation by the authorities, we can confirm that the individual injured in the incident was not a Morgan student. These things that occurred on our campus do not reflect the homecoming experience we wish to have affiliated with Morgan State University.”

Trash and debris are normal for any large outdoor gathering like a sporting event, festival, or homecoming and were the lead in Wilson’s weird letter, which didn’t address the shooting or the failure of homecoming traditions sacrificed in the name of safety.

For years, Wilson has refused to state what inspires the threat to his campus. He has called for a blend of respectable and ridiculous efforts to stem violence on campus, ranging from homecoming time changes to metal detectors and patrol dogs in university residence halls. His latest letter shows how tone-deaf he is to the realities of a high-performing and popular university set firmly between metropolitan Baltimore and a neighboring suburb.

He has yet to make the inroads necessary with community members, Baltimore City Police, and even students and alumni to effectively address the long-standing problem of MSU’s relationship with the community. Instead, he believes that inciting the shooters and insulting Baltimore and cities like it is the best strategy for safety.

Regardless of what you might experience elsewhere in our city, or in the city or community from which you hail, when you step onto the Morgan campus, it’s a magical and transformational place. We expect you to treat it that way!”

Wilson being too good to embrace Baltimore City is not surprising, given his rhetoric of Morgan being “more than just an HBCU.” But his standoffishness has been getting people killed for years, and it has to end.

The problems of Baltimore City pour into Morgan’s campus in a way unlike any other campus in the city, starting with the racist, systemic underfunding of the university by the State of Maryland. A historic federal lawsuit that Wilson didn’t support and failed in his efforts to stop has provided some relief to this generational problem, but the solution now requires an investment in people and relationships.

It is people who come onto the campus to rob and steal from its students, in many cases violently. People in the community hold animus against the university dating back to the relocation of the campus to Northeast Baltimore at the turn of the 20th century. While Morgan students launched the national sit-in movement in 1955 and desegregated nearby Northwood Plaza during the 1960’s, the community continues to object to many of Morgan’s development efforts and campus expansion.

The community has pushed back at every point against Morgan building green “gateways” to the campus to secure its boundaries and entrances further, even going as far as putting a neighborhood marker at the core intersection of the campus. This marker has now been overshadowed by Morgan’s new bridge signage and logos on buildings so large they can be viewed from points close to Baltimore’s downtown area on clear days. Student housing, parking, and commercial revitalization efforts are all blocked by surrounding neighborhood associations, and while residents will attribute their stonewalling to an effort to secure their homes against urban sprawl, the lack of outreach to these neighborhoods starts with leadership.

Residents in the Morgan campus community will work against improved lighting in the area, increased police presence, more stores, and improved property values to maintain opposition against a campus and a president who refuses to see them as key stakeholders. A Morgan Mile program that years ago promised to address issues in a radius around campus has delivered little to improve educational, public health, and prosperity outcomes for the community. A strategic plan developed in 2022 and aimed at the next ten years of the university’s history does not address by name or idea work to develop the community around the campus other than an increased police presence off-campus.

City and state elected officials, including Democratic Maryland gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore attended homecoming this year, and after they left, every public safety talking point that matters in their speeches and appearances faded in the sunset. If Wilson does not engage the surrounding community, he must at least apply more public pressure on the Mayor’s office and the city’s lawmaking delegation to give Morgan the supported autonomy to protect students with much-needed, crime-deterring development in the surrounding area.

Fair Morgan is at the precipice of becoming an R1: Doctoral Research University with close to ten thousand students and a slate of new buildings and capacity, yet it’s plagued with on-campus violence unseen at any other HBCU nationwide and spurred by its next-door neighbors. It is time for Wilson, Mayor Scott, and the city at large to prioritize Morgan as an engine of culture and economic prosperity for the city before its progress and more Black lives are lost.