HBCU leaders not feeling ‘The Quad’

A new television series about a fictional historically Black university portrays a scandalous campus culture, including a college president’s affair, binge drinking and a corrupt band director. Some Black college presidents are not fans.

“The Quad,” which premiered on BET last month, follows the lives of several students and the president of Georgia A&M University. The show was created by people who themselves graduated from HBCUs, but their references to partying and promiscuity on campus have drawn mixed reviews.

The longtime president of Hampton University, William Harvey, recently penned an open letter to Debra Lee, the president of BET, calling the show a “bogus representation” of life at an HBCU and comparing its portrayal to fake news.

“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,” Harvey wrote in the letter.

“ ‘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.”

Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, said he has watched the first few episodes of the show and understands where Harvey is coming from.

The entertainment industry doesn’t provide many uplifting stories of Black colleges and student life, Kimbrough said. People are nostalgic for the 1980s television show “A Different World” and for the even-handed portrayals seen in movies like “Stomp the Yard” and “Drumline.”

“I guess the lesson for me is that if we want positive images of HBCUs, we should be in talks with people to produce those kinds of shows,” Kimbrough said. “… I’m not disturbed by the show, and I simply accept it as entertainment like many other shows.”

Lee, the BET president, said in an interview with Ebony that she had spoken privately with Harvey and emphasized that “The Quad” is not based in fact, nor is it based on any one college.

“Fictional TV has drama, you have good guys and bad guys,” Lee said. “We had a good conversation and I hope students, administrators and parents will take the issues that we’re dealing with on ‘The Quad’ seriously and discuss them during and after the show, because we are dealing with serious issues that happen on all campuses, not just HBCUs.”