It’s been 30 years since we saw Denise Huxtable go to Hillman College, a fictional HBCU in Virginia, where she would meet Dwayne Wayne and the prissy Whitley Gilbert in The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World. BET’s new show The Quad takes us on the campus of the historically black Georgia A&M University, home of the Mountain Cats, in Atlanta. But it’s no half-hour sitcom where you get a feel-good moral lesson at the end.
The Quad is an hourlong drama that chronicles the difficult transition of Eva Fletcher, GAMU’s first female president, and the school’s freshmen, who have to learn how to navigate life away from home in a new environment. The series highlights the financial struggles of many black colleges but also shows the rich cultural traditions of HBCUs.
The Quad is the brain child of Florida A&M University graduates Rob Hardy and Mitzi Miller, who is the former editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine. After producing the 2007 hit Stomp the Yard, Hardy thought it would be a good idea to have a version of the movie as a TV series.
“Coming up with this idea of someone coming from the Northeast—I grew up in Philly—and coming down South to Florida, I was like a fish out of water. Culturally, it was very different than what we were doing in Philly,” says Hardy, who majored in mechanical engineering at FAMU.
But Hardy says that attending an HBCU was one of the best decisions he ever made. He made lifelong friends and the experience changed his life.
“To be in a place like a historically black college, it was probably the first time that I was in an environment that was all black where everybody was on something positive, where, when you’re a freshman, everybody, in theory, is trying to be the best that they can be,” says Hardy. “Some people had gold teeth and face tats. People were middle class, rich, international, thugged out. Nobody cared. We were all just 18 trying to figure it out.
“And so it was just kind of cool to be around that many different types of people that looked like you, but everybody had different experiences. It was just special, man. I can’t even front,” says Hardy.
The Quad sets out to capture the unique experience of being on a historically black college campus, reminiscent of Spike Lee’s 1988 film, School Daze. Ironically, Jasmine Guy, who was featured in School Daze and who also played the chronically spoiled Whitley in A Different World, comes to The Quad as a wise, respected trustee and the voice of reason.
But Hardy points out that what sets The Quad apart from previous shows is that you get to see the inner workings of an HBCU from top to bottom—the hard choices and sometimes shady dealings of the top administrators, as well as the experiences of its freshman class.
Anika Noni Rose plays Eva Fletcher, the school’s first female president, whom she describes as multifaceted, extraordinarily smart and forward thinking.
“She is definitely an alpha personality,” Rose says of her character. “Yet she’s encountering a culture, being the South primarily, that she doesn’t know anything about. At every turn, she’s got men trying to get her out of there and just make things more difficult.”
Despite her character’s success, Rose says her character makes her own personal mistakes and can be quite messy. It’s someone we’ve been missing on the small screen, she notes.
“This is a woman that we’ll recognize,” says Rose. “She’s not so perfect that we feel like we couldn’t be her or know her.”
Like Hardy, Rose is an alumni of FAMU. A native of Bloomfield, Conn., the actress says that she received a scholarship to another school but chose to attend an HBCU.
“It was an active choice for me,” says Rose. “I thought it would be the one time in my life where I was surrounded by people who were of similar culture, with similar goals and skin tones and music and wants and needs. It was certainly my goal to go to an HBCU to be able to have that experience and get an education.”
There’s been criticism of The Quad, which has ads that tease a hazing incident and girls gone wild at a party. But Hardy says the show is about showing the whole truth.
“Real life is about balance. It’s about the good, the bad and the in-between. That’s what the truth is,” says Hardy. “The truth is that historically black colleges are amazing schools with amazing people. But at the same time, it’s 18-year-olds doing crazy stuff while they’re there. But there are other 18-year-olds doing amazing things. There are some teachers that care and give you the most love and attention and best education ever. There are some people that are only out for themselves.”
“The truth of the matter is that everybody has aspects to them that are negative. The most positive person that you know has something about them you don’t like or they don’t like,” says Rose. “It’s impossible to portray an institution truthfully if all we’re going to do is spread sunshine. Somewhere, there’s shade. We have to explore those pockets. Otherwise, that sun doesn’t even matter.”
In the end, The Quad shows that HBCUs are “a place where people can not just have fun but also study, and can be themselves and can get exposed to different types of things while being there,” says Hardy.
Rose says that she hopes people get to see the value of HBCUs and the many different sides of who we are.
“I hope that it brings pride,” Rose says of The Quad. “I hope that in the places where we expose the negative, it brings enough shame to bring about change. I hope that people are able to accept it in its entirety instead of picking apart this piece or that piece to hang on, and jump on, and try to rip the thread in the sweater. Hold on a minute. Watch it. See it. Take it in. Let it be honest.”
The Quad premieres Wednesday on BET at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.