A Different World

What we can learn from the newly crowned, non-black Miss Hampton, and what she can learn from us.

Joi Louviere Photo
Joi Louviere Photo

So Churchill fired back at her peers by bringing Obama into it. In a letter to President Obama, the 22-year-old nursing major stated that she thought the dissatisfaction over her being chosen as campus queen was based on the color of her skin, and asked him to visit the campus to speak about diversity and racial bias.

But not all Hamptonians reject the notion of a non-black queen representing their campus. Stephanie Redding, a 1999 graduate of Hampton University, feels that selecting Nikole Churchill is a great example of the university’s commitment to inclusion. “Hampton had some non-black students when I was there, and I’m sure that number has continued to grow. As long as she won fairly, it is fine with me. It is an example of diversity.”

Upon realizing that not every student felt the same way about the idea of her wearing the crown, Churchill later issued an apology, saying that she wrote the letter in reaction to a few and “blew the issue out of proportion.”
As part of her platform, she plans to help instill self-confidence in girls between the ages of 11 and 14, proudly representing Hampton while doing so. Still, she was met with jeers as recently as last weekend at the Pirates football game. It doesn’t seem like the “What’s that white girl doing up there?” questions will disappear anytime soon.

But historically, there have always been non-black students in attendance at our nation’s historically black colleges and universities. Ironically, Hampton University was one of the first HBCUs to establish a school for Native Americans in 1878. Black colleges have had white valedictorians and white campus queens. Today, many HBCUs are actively marketing to other ethnic groups in an effort to stay viable. And although you may be hard-pressed to count them on more than one hand on many campuses, they’re not there by mistake. That doesn’t take anything away from the rich legacies that so many HBCUs have given to our country.

Maybe the best thing that Nikole Churchill can do is wear her crown with pride. Take more classes on Hampton’s picturesque main campus. Learn the traditions.Spend some time at “the café.” Get to know people. And although that last part won’t always be so easy, perhaps with time, she and the students she seeks to represent will realize that their worlds may not be so different after all.

Meera Bowman-Johnson is a graduate of Spelman College and an advocate for America’s HBCUs.