Can a 'Mean Girl' Be a Morehouse Man?

Judging by the all-male college's reaction to a current article in Vibe magazine, Morehouse expects all its students to conform to a narrow range of self-expression. But some people believe you can be a Morehouse man and still wear high heels (or a do-rag).

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By Shani O. Hilton 

It's hard to know where to begin when talking about the firestorm surrounding Aliya S. King's Vibe article about "The Mean Girls of Morehouse." King's focus on three young men who are expressing a nontraditional, queer gender identity has rankled many, including Morehouse President Robert M. Franklin. In fact, Franklin rebutted King's piece based on its title alone, saying he was disturbed that it referred to a subset of Morehouse men as "girls."

It's not surprising that the Morehouse administration, with a dress code that bans women's clothing, is marching in lock step with the acceptable rigid gender identity to which black men are expected to conform. But doubling down on regressive policies will leave Morehouse men unprepared for a society that is slowly but surely becoming increasingly accepting of more fluid gender roles and gay rights.

King's story, while a little on the sensational side, presented these men in their own words. As Diamond Martin Poulin told King: "I'm about freedom of expression. I'm about being whomever you truly are inside. I came to Morehouse because of all the historical leaders that attended and impacted the world so heavily. You know, I really wanted to follow in their footsteps. I don't think Morehouse believes that someone like me -- someone who wears heels and dresses -- can uphold that reputation. But they're wrong."

The Vibe article comes a year after Morehouse instituted the dress code emphasizing proper attire for the Morehouse "Renaissance Man." The most publicized provision, which Morehouse Vice President Richard Bynum dismissed as applicable only to five students (possibly including some of the men whom King interviewed), banned clothing "associated with women's garb," such as purses, high-heeled shoes and makeup.

Eddie Glaude, director of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University and a 1989 alumnus of the college, said in an interview with The Root that no such dress code existed when he was a student and suggests it inhibits the kind of personal growth that a high-quality liberal arts education should be promoting.

"I am not a supporter of dress codes," Glaude said. "I'm one for freedom of expression. College is a space where young men and women can create new selves, repeatedly. As they experience life-transforming encounters in the classrooms and with their friends, they find the life they can settle down in."

Although Glaude found the article title to be "deliberately controversial," he said, "It's important that these young men who had been faceless have an opportunity to give voice to their opinions."

Expecting gender conformity from all of the men who attend Morehouse may sound reasonable, but those who can't live up to it have few options. Indeed, Phillip Hudson's story in the Vibe article is an example of the fine line walked by some men at the school. Hudson told King that he tried to be "masculine" on his first day at the school and was immediately called a faggot. He decided that he at least needed to be comfortable in his own skin and went back to the appearance he prefers. Other, non-cross-dressing gay men at Morehouse said that there's a sense that it's "okay to be gay. But not that gay."

He is correct -- the dress code also bans baseball caps and hoods indoors, do-rags other than in residence halls and sagging pants. These bans may seem innocuous enough. After all, with all of the issues that young black men face today, why permit Morehouse men to wear items associated with criminal behavior?

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