From EbonyJet — DO CLOTHES REALLY MAKE THE MAN?
They do if the man is a Morehouse Man. That’s the overriding opinion of school administrators, faculty, alumni and students who put the brakes on “feminine gender expression” last school year after a group of students showed up to class reportedly wearing tight jeans, blouses, pumps and purses. The cross-dressing students not only prompted a new dress code of sorts at the historically Black all-male school in Atlanta, but they also ignited a debate over everything from homophobia to masculine decorum to freedom of expression.
AT ISSUE: Exactly what does it mean to be a Morehouse Man in 2010?
The Morehouse legacy in molding Black students into leaders is well known. The school is the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson and Spike Lee, to name a few. It is one of the few colleges in the country where students regularly wear suits to class. The school’s Web site boasts that its mission “is to develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service. … Morehouse is an academic community dedicated to teaching, scholarship, and service, and the continuing search for truth as a liberating force. … The College seeks students who are willing to carry the torch of excellence and who are willing to pay the price of gaining strength and confidence by confronting adversity, mastering their fears, and achieving success by earning it.”
But is that type of iconic image still relevant today? Or is the Morehouse Man a creation of a bygone era when Black men were needed to lead the fight for basic human rights?
The college has made it clear that its objective today is the same as it was when the school was founded 143 years ago.
Nicolas Aziz, editor of Morehouse’s Maroon Tiger student newspaper, says that he and other students understand that the school’s goal is to develop strong Black male leaders. “Most students go to college to get a degree,” says the 19-year-old Shreveport, La., resident. “You go to Morehouse to get a degree and become a Morehouse Man.
Aziz says that perhaps the most important trait of a Morehouse Man is “somebody who knows what’s appropriate in certain arenas,” which made the actions of the cross-dressing students out of line and disrespectful to the college. “I feel like, as a man, there are certain rules that you follow,” he says. “I don’t agree with men wearing women’s clothing, and if there are men who choose to do that, I believe they can go somewhere else and do it. If you are at Morehouse College and become a Morehouse Man, and a productive man in this society, then I feel there are certain rules that you should go by.”
Even before the cross-dressing issue, says William Bynum, vice president of Student Services at Morehouse, the college was having other attire concerns, including students wearing baseball caps and a smaller number wearing sagging pants and “grillz” teeth ornaments. “We felt that while we were dealing with the issue of women’s garments, we might as well deal with all of the attire issues,” he says. “We expect appropriateness.
We don’t think it’s asking much. … We felt that there were a few students on the fringe, and we should deal with it before it became a bigger issue.”
As a result, the school instituted what it calls an “Appropriate Attire Policy,” which Bynum says is a part of the “educational student development program” at Morehouse.
“What we are trying to do is educate our students on what is appropriate attire,” he explains. “We are helping prepare them to be leaders in the real world. Let’s not wait until they’re in the real world. Let’s do that now, while they are students here.”
Bynum also says that Morehouse’s new policy has received “overwhelming support,” as has college President Robert M. Franklin’s “Five Wells” strategy for cultivating male students who are “well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-balanced.”
Internet chat rooms have been buzzing ever since the policy was announced. Many responders support it, seeing it as the school’seffort to uphold standards generations in the making. But others say that the dress code infringes on freedom of expression, and is homophobic. One blogger wrote, “I wonder if Dr. Franklin would have banned Afros and Jheri-Curls back in the ’70s and ’80s had he been president of the college back then?”
Although 1980 Morehouse alum Greg Griffin Sr. said the idea of cross-dressing students at his alma mater makes him “want to throw up,” his son Greg Griffin Jr., currently a student at Morehouse, believes it’s a matter of to each his own. “It is what it is,” he says.