Snacks is the HBCU Lizzo, Miles' New President, Assessing Damage at Tennessee State, and the Trouble With HBCU Diversity

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‘Snacks-sanity’ Was Cool, and Then The SWAC Took it Too Far

Jackson State University student basketball manager Thomas ‘Snacks’ Lee lived out a hoops dream this week, going viral for an improbable appearance in a Division I college basketball game and hitting an improbable shot.

His dream landed him 5 million views, thousands of new followers and an appearance on the ‘Today Show,’ all things that a black man preparing to graduate from college should never expect, but by all means, should embrace as a glorious rarity.

Jackson State was getting invaluable media exposure at a time when the school needed it most. A likable guy was an instant celebrity. And then the Southwestern Athletic Conference made sure it hit “doing too much” levels.

Forget that other players work and train throughout their lives to make a Division I college basketball team, and then triple that work to remain academically eligible, healthy and skilled enough to even be considered as ‘Player of the Week’ material.

The SWAC had good intentions for sure for naming Lee as its player of the week; certainly, its goal was to help him capitalize on his moment while cornering coverage for its own fortunes. But in the process, the conference diminished its own brand and the work of its more accomplished athletes.

There are some circumstances where accolades are earned outside of the lines on a field or court. Two players who have sustained career-ending injuries on a football field have captured HBCU Awards in the last five years. Southern University’s Devon Gales and Tennessee State University’s Christion Abercrombie earned votes for their courage and tenacity in returning to normal lives as students representing their respective schools.

Snacks is being heralded not for tenacity, or for overcoming odds. He’s on the receiving end of the worst kind of lampooning; the kind where we celebrate what we normally would ostracize because they are living large in spite of our desire to scorn.

We clapped for Rerun not because he was a great dancer, but because we thought he was too big to be dancing that well and because he was bold enough to ignore our laughing at him. We defend Lizzo, not as a woman empowered by her own self-image, but because many of us far thinner than she would never be empowered the same way; a hat tip to our discomfort with her and with ourselves.

As a member from the Digest After Dark group chat put it:

“The fetishism of a plus-sized individual hitting 1/4 shots from 3 is how he ended up being named POW (over) Gerard Andrus having 24 points with 15 rebounds.”

Normalizing Lee’s once-in-a-lifetime senior night garbage time appearance isn’t Black Twitter’s best because of particular excellence or fearlessness; it’s because he walked on to a court with an ill-fitting jersey and horrific shooting form. The line between local ridicule and global Internet fame for Lee was separated simply by the diameter of a basketball rim.

And unlike the fake love we threw at Rerun or throw at Lizzo, Lee didn’t earn our respect because he worked for it or because we really were rooting for him to receive it.

We get to laugh at another fat person and loudly, publicly, falsely call it love. And the SWAC as our biggest sports brand affirmed an entire HBCU community and nation cruelly doing the same thing.

Miles Names Bobbie Knight as Permanent President

Miles College today named Bobbie Knight as the school’s permanent president. She is the first woman to lead the college in its 122-year history.

“I am honored that the Board of Trustees has confidence in me to take a longer and more permanent view to provide leadership to Miles College,” says Bobbie Knight, President of Miles College. “I look forward to serving the students, faculty, and staff to create a positive future for Miles College.”

Trustees cited Knight’s executive experience in a number of industries and relationship building throughout the Birmingham community as assets in a long term vision for the institution.

“We were blessed when Dr. Knight agreed to step in as Interim on short notice. Her strategic leadership since August 2019 has excelled our expectations,” says Bishop Teresa Jefferson – Snorton, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Miles College. “She has engaged with the students and began several initiatives to enhance their learning experience. She has also secured the College’s largest single donor gift in history,” says Bishop Jefferson – Snorton.

Knight’s appointment began effective immediately.

Tornado Damage to Tennessee State Assessed at $20 Million

A tornado that tore through Nashville earlier this week caused more than $20 million in damage to Tennessee State University, according to officials.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee visited the campus to view the damage and to offer support to university leaders dealing with total losses to some facilities and livestock.

Three of four buildings were totally destroyed, and the welfare of the animals is a priority. TSU agriculture officials said two calves were killed and several goats injured.

Other parts of the campus received damage to signs and building rooftops, as well as downed power lines, uprooted trees and other debris. The university has suspended power to structures with the most damage as a safety precaution. 

Delaware State Aims to Become Nation’s Most Diverse HBCU

Delaware State University President Tony Allen told ‘Forbes’ this week that the First State’s flagship HBCU has long-term goals of becoming the most diverse institution of its kind in the country.

Currently, about 64% of Delaware State’s 5,000 students are African-American. Allen intends to enhance the University’s attraction to additional Black students, at the same time he broadens its profile to include more students from groups that are either chronically under-represented in college or poorly served by public education.

“In Delaware and across the nation,” Allen says, “we’re looking for students with a fire to succeed, regardless of the color of their skin, their country of origin, the god they worship, or the ones they choose to love.” 

The challenge is not Allen’s objective or intention. While most HBCU alumni and some faculty balk at the idea of black college campuses becoming less than exclusively black, there is great value in HBCUs looking outside of the black student talent pool.

The challenge is in how a school accomplishes the goal. What happens when diversity yields distrust and misalign teaching objectives among faculty ranks? We’ve seen battles between black and white faculty at Lincoln University (Missouri) and Kentucky State University in recent years, and Savannah State University in weeks. How does leadership address race-based divisions in how predominantly black student bodies are instructed in industry and culture?

How can HBCUs infuse culture tolerance and appreciation for international student bodies? If HBCU culture is built on the notion of being more to more people of color than predominantly white institutions’ black student unions and black homecoming concerts, then haven’t we claimed expertise in making this same love possible for students from African nations, the Middle East, South America, and the Caribbean?

If we want more foreign-born students, do we have more foreign-born faculty and administrators on staff? If we want more LGBTQ students, do we have more LGBTQ presence in positions of policymaking?

And how do we engage alumni in these objectives? What if they don’t want their campuses to be more diverse? What if they publicly reject it? How do we balance the objectives of stakeholders with the objectives of legislators and corporations who may have the opposite view of progress and investment worthiness?

Everyone agrees that HBCUs should be more diverse. Not everyone agrees on what that looks like or how HBCUs should get there.