BET’s new show about HBCU Life “The Quad” premiered last night and it was everything that I expected it to be: the culmination of everything sexy and salacious about the black college experience. The show premiered as a “movie”, which in actuality lasted an hour because BET used the remaining thirty minutes to show commercials. Hey, you gotta get that ad revenue popping! Nevertheless, the writers of the show hit the ground running with content. The first episode was almost a virtual tour of the campus, as we saw snippets of “Georgia A&M University” in the transitions from one scene to the next. I couldn’t help but smile as I recognized AUC landmarks that I saw and facets of HBCU Life that they depicted like the Freshman Week activities and the Greeks stepping and strolling on the yard.
Clearly the show isn’t for individuals isn’t for individuals that aren’t invested on interested in investing in the HBCU experience. The commentary on the show I’ve seen from critics from bigger media outlets has been largely unfair? The show is too fast-paced? The pilot highlighted too many storylines? This is college! I don’t know what institutions they went to but a month in college feels like a couple of days. The length of the episode last night is literally the epitome of how time flys for many college students around the nation, no matter if you’re at an HBCU or a PWI.
Since the critics are giving unfair reviews of the show and the fact that The Quad, even after premiering it’s first episode yesterday, still isn’t receiving the media attention it should, let me jump in front of things and give a honest, accurate review of the first episode from a HBCU student!
Last night, I heard The Quad be compared to the shows created by ABC’s superstar writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, most specifically her hit drama Scandal. The reasoning behind saying this is because she’s been brought in to “fix” Georgia A & M University. Of course her wardrobe was incredibly reminiscent of Olivia Pope, especially in scenes where Dr. Eva Fletcher (played by Anika Noni Rose) had on a trench coat. However, I think the better show comparison for The Quad is Being Mary Jane, also broadcasted on BET. Dr. Fletcher is literally the epitome of “beautifully flawed”. She’s strikingly beautiful and has a expansive college administrative resume. However, her affair graduate student got her fired from her previous position, causing her to be effectively blackballed from any administrative jobs in the Connecticut area and ruining her relationship with her husband.
Although black women are always painted as overly promiscuous in the media, I have no
problem with her sexuality being explored on the show. Sex is a part of the real world. We compromise ourselves for pleasure on a daily. What I love is the fact that The Quad is showing the other side of falling victim to our lust. Through Dr. Fletcher, we’re seeing how she has to deal with the repercussions of her actions. She’s suffering on the inside. She longs for the stability of her husband in a volatile place where she has almost no allies. Band Director Cecil Diamond and Dean of Students Carlton Pettiway vehemently oppose her, more than anything because she’s a woman.
One beautiful thing about life, though, is that she can bounce back. Although she feels trapped in her new job as the president of GAMU (she continuously cites the fact that she has no other options), she started to feel a passion for the school. That passion for her mission that she garners from working at an HBCU such as Georgia A&M will propel her to heights that she didn’t even imagine. I love the redemption story that’s being set!
Tradition vs. Innovation (The Great Debate)
If anything comes from this show, we’ll finally get to see how some HBCU’s fall behind the curve due to their unrelenting desire to grasp onto tradition. There’s nothing wrong with tradition, especially those positive traditions, but times change. What used to be done in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s can’t be mimicked today. It’s a new era! Often times, this clinging on to the old guard and the old way of doing things hurts us. Dr. Fletchers battle with both Cecil Diamond and Dean Pettiway are perfect examples.
First, they wouldn’t show respect to her because she was a woman in a “traditionally male” role as a college president. Pettiway feels as if he deserves the position of president because
of his tenure. However, his affiliations makes him unfit for leadership. A leader should be unbought. His allegiance is to his ego and, of course, his fraternity (Phi Mu Kappa). Bringing in an outsider with prior leadership experience can shake up the political landscape. She can diagnose problems and issues through fresh eyes. Maybe that’s why Dean Pettiway hasn’t secured the position yet.
Pettiway also can’t get over the fact that she isn’t an HBCU grown product. His comment that “Her black skin doesn’t make her black” makes her sound more like a black Trump supporter and less like a qualified black woman who isn’t an HBCU graduate that’s taking on a new task. We all have to start somewhere. Let’s not forget that Dillard’s President Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, who I conducted an interview with, got his education from a PWI and then became one of the most prominent HBCU presidents that we’ve ever seen. Couldn’t Dr. Fletcher recreate that same success story? Will she even be given a chance without the tremendous push back that she’s received? She couldn’t even get a consensus to crack down on hazing!
Yes, hazing did play a big part in the pilot as it is a pivotal issue that rears it’s ugly head on HBCU and PWI campuses nationwide. During the show on social media many people wanted to cite FAMU’s band when the first scene about hazing occurred. FAMU is far from the only school that has this issue. Hazing has been discussed ad nauseum for years. However, The Quad showed how the culture is preserved more by adults and administrators that know exactly what’s going on but turn a blind eye. It’s always about what’s in the best interest of monetary gain or loss for the school. What about the students?
Freshman Saxaphone player Ebony Weaver (played by Erica Michelle) is laying in the hospital and Dr. Fletcher is being pushed to drop things and let Diamond handle things. Dr. Fletcher made the right move in revising the code of conduct and showing everyone in that room that business as usual can go on no longer.
Lit With A Purpose
A criticism that viewers of the show gave was that it seemed as if only the band and the football team would be highlighted. According to critics, there were no classroom scenes and the whole show is more about the college social scene than anything. But, didn’t they see the scene where Jasmine Guy was introduced? She was teaching a history class where a quick debate about race arouse. Let’s not act like we’re new to this. TV Shows are about ratings. Of course Rob Hardy and the crew were going to create salacious storylines to garner attention. There are tons of stories that can be told about HBCU life. Most of them happen outside the classroom though. College without the social experience is high school. I’m very sure we’ll be seeing the students in the classroom more as the show progresses.
The best writers weave commentary into their most dramatic storylines. The writers for The Quad did just that with their depiction of Sydney Fletcher (played by Jazz Raycole), the daughter of Dr. Fletcher. Sydney is almost like a Preacher’s Kid. She comes from a stable home environment and longs for what she believes are authentic experiences. She resents
her mom, partly because she feels as if she’s been dragged down to Georgia A&M when her goal was to stay in Connecticut. She went all out of her way to rebel against her mother’s authority, almost getting herself killed in the process.
The frat house scene was, to me, the most authentic. Sadly, that whole storyline towards the end of the episode is what goes on. Sydney played strip poker and got so drunk that she literally passed out. Some of the Phi Mu Kappas were plotting on her. Imagine what would’ve happened to her had she stayed conscious. She was already about to strip out of her clothes.
When she passed out, they payed her no regard at first. The frat boys didn’t even know her name! They considered her as just a “freshman”, a special form of objectification that you see on college campuses. Their regard for her didn’t change until they found out who her Mom was. Isn’t that a shame?
What’s even more shameful is the fact that Sydney was used in the worse way. She was used by the Phi Mu Kappas and toyed with to their advantage. But, even worse, her drunk escapade will be used against her mother as Cecil Diamond and Dean Pettiway rally to get her fired.
Overall, I enjoyed the pilot! I didn’t want it to end! I believe that the show will provide us a vehicle to discuss our issues and give us all free advertisement to the masses of high school students that may not know what HBCU life entails. I will continue to support the show and I urge everyone else to as well. Check it out Wednesdays at 10:00 on BET!
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.