Former Morehouse President: Morehouse Held a Crown Over My Head, Harvard Held A Question Mark

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Written by Ann Brown
Morehouse
“At Morehouse, they held a crown over my head and expected me, challenged me,” said a former graudate and former president of the HBCU.. Graduates react as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., May 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

When John Silvanus Wilson, now a former president of HBCU Morehouse, attended Harvard he said it was a much different experience than he had as a student at Morehouse. The Morehouse graduate went on to earn two master’s degrees and a doctorate at Harvard. But while he was pursuing higher education at Harvard she said he doesn’t feel the sense of empowerment he exercised while at Morehouse.

“At Morehouse, they held a crown over my head and expected me, challenged me, to grow tall enough to wear it. When I came to Harvard, they held a question mark over my head. I felt the institution was causing me to ask do I belong here,” he said.

While at Harvard, Wislon was faced, he said, with mixed messages. During a  panel discussion recently at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on mental health and wellness for students of color, Wilson, who is now a senior advisor and strategist to the president at Harvard, discussed the two distinctly different campus cultures. 

Often, students of color, said Wilson, are not accepted fully at non-HBCU schools, particularly at the Ivy League schools. They get not so subdue messages that they are not totally welcomed.

“Those messages can be overt, such as the noose found earlier this month in a University of Illinois residence hall, or they can be smaller acts, known as microaggressions, such as telling black classmates after a presentation, ‘You’re so articulate’ or asking them to be the voice of an entire race — ‘What do Black people think of Joe Biden?,’” Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.

And being faced with the stresses of college along with racism, discrimination, microaggressions, students of color can suffer from mental health issues, according to Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, founding director of the College Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. There have been studies to prove this. A Harris Poll of 1,000 college students with equal samples of African American, Latinx, white, and Asian American students revealed that students of color are much less likely than white students feel a sense of inclusive on campus. Students of color feel more isolated on campus, 46 percent compared to 30 percent of whites.

“What does it mean to be African-American in this society that we have seen a doubling of the suicide rate among children aged 5 to 12 over a 20-year window?” said David Williams, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Mental health concerns are like off the charts,” said Wilson. “If we recognize that, if they’re off the charts in general, and students of color are less likely to be aware of the services, less likely to be diagnosed and less likely to be treated, that really brings into focus the institutional responsibility. We cannot presume that the mental health services set up for one audience are suitable for all audiences. If I don’t believe you want me here, I’m not inclined to come in and get your services.”

Ann Brown
Image Attribution: "At Morehouse, they held a crown over my head and expected me, challenged me," said a former graudate and former president of the HBCU.. Graduates react as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., May 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House., "At Morehouse, they held a crown over my head and expected me, challenged me," said a former graudate and former president of the HBCU.. Graduates react as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., May 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.