Morehouse College has been a bedrock of West Atlanta for the last one hundred years. It is revered for its rigorous academic program, and has served as the inception for numerous Black men that have made countless contributions to our society.
Which is why my recent read of Michael Harriot’s “The War at Morehouse” (a MUST read) was both illuminating and disheartening. Even as an HBCU graduate, I’m still an outsider when it comes to the Morehouse world. But as an educator on the Westside of Atlanta, I am a keen observer to what happens in our community, especially if I believe its activities can impact my students. I’ve observed the tangible positive impact of Morehouse students on my campus at KIPP WAYS Primary as weekly literacy tutors for students with reading deficiencies, and at the middle school campus, where they support students with entrepreneurship, and student teach.
I know that if Morehouse flourishes, consequently so does the surrounding community.
In Harriot’s detailed report on the civil war taking place at one of our most prominent campuses for Black minds, I gleaned more than just insight into the timeline of events, and the responsible parties. There are parallels between the ways student voice is stifled.
I paid close attention to the way Michael spoke about the students entangled in the dilemma, and the words he included from Morehouse’s student body president, Johnathan Hill:
“As the president of the Student Government Association, Hill, as well as two other student body officers, is entitled to a seat on the board of trustees. The three are included in most decisions made by the board, and these student trustees were part of the group that decided to hire John Sylvanus Wilson. Hill says he believes the advice of the student body is integral to the college.
‘They are the ones who must bear the weight of those decisions,’ Hill told The Root. ‘They are the ones who are on campus every day and are part of the living, breathing history of Morehouse—not the Morehouse of 50 years ago, but the Morehouse of today.’”
From just this section of the article there are clear connections to the approach we must take as educators:
- Students are “entitled to a seat”
When we think of students at our schools, regardless of their age, do we believe that they are entitled to a seat in decision-making? At all levels of education, there is a consistent trend: The muzzling of student voice. Even in the situation that is ongoing at Morehouse, there is a façade of student voice, which is made evident through a clear suppression of their vote to extend President John Wilson’s contract. This same thing happens on our K-12 campuses. We set up student government. Support advisory councils. Distribute student surveys. All of this while still minimizing student impact and power. Students are entitled to real influence.
- “They [students] are the ones who are on campus every day”
Students are the ones sitting in seats every day. They’re the ones that remain in seats even as their teachers come and go. They bear the weight of our decisions. Students are the most important stakeholder in education, and their educational experience is a direct reflection of the competence and leadership of the adults they interact with. School leaders and teachers have to keep students at the forefront of their decision-making process, rather than the adults. Morehouse’s internal conflict is the consequence of not doing what is best for kids.
Whether in higher education or at elementary schools, student voice is being muted. As adults and leaders, we have to voluntarily relinquish some of our power, and if we choose not to, students will continue to fight for the influence they are due.