Op-ed: “Shirt Wearers” ~ HBCU Alum Who Only Care When It’s Convenient

I recently became the member of a Black Greek Letter Organization. As I read through our history book, I came across the point in my organization’s past where they defined the only distinction that should matter when it comes to members of Greek organizations. Active Or Inactive (no, not Paper or Pledging).

The distinction to this day SHOULD be the only one that matters when discussing members of the organization; whether are or are not a member who is about the business of building and defending the brand of the organizations. Not just financially, but in how we discuss the work of the organizations, paying attention to the details of each one and making sure that the organization we became a part of has fallen to the wayside. If you ask some members of BGLOs how do you recognize an Inactive member or “Shirt wearer”, many will tell you they are the ones who talk the most about the stereotypical parts of being Greek, own the most paraphernalia, and possibly the ones who do a lot to damage to the image of their organization.

I know some of y’all are wondering what this has to do with HBCUs. Well…

A Large Percentage of HBCU Graduates are “Shirt wearers” of their institutions.

A good friend of mine, co-alum (and now Frat brother) posed a question on Facebook recently asking “What Are Some Things Unique to the HBCU Experience?” Let me start by saying the majority of the responses were great, meaningful and lighthearted. But the following responses prompted this piece:

Dealing With Financial Aid
 Student Loan acceptance 
 No guidance.

Well let’s break this down. I’ve attended 2 HBCUs as well as been employed by 2 PWIs. Financial Aid problems occur everywhere, and you can’t blame the school for not doing your FAFSA correctly. Same goes for Student Loan issues overall. And finally, closed mouths don’t get fed. Guidance doesn’t seek out those who need it, those who need it should have sought guidance. But moreover:

If you are the graduate of an HBCU and when asked about what made your experience unique and the first thing you utter out of your mouth is negative in fashion, I think it is fair at this point to refer to you as a “Shirt wearer” of your alma mater.

Historically Black Colleges & Universities already deal with enough false narratives about their purpose, influence and ability to prepare students, it’s quite amazing to see people that verbally defecate on their university they received their degree from. What’s more? The people whom often do the most slandering of their university own and wear clothing showing they are alumni, and most likely have not donated a dime to their institution since departing the campus.

These Shirt wearers only use their alma mater’s identity as an HBCU when it’s convenient: using their degree to get a job, using their former school as a reason to attend CIAA weekend or the Battle of the Bands, etc. They literally do nothing to protect the brand or add any meaningful progressive commentary, or invest in the program they received their degree from.

I wrote an article for HBCU Gameday on BET’s The Quad about a month ago. I stated that the show needs to be responsible in showing both what is similar between HBCUs and PWIs, in addition to highlighting the differences that make them unique. There is plenty to celebrate about HBCUs that doesn’t involve the Band, The Yard, and Homecoming in the unique ways HBCUs do them. More importantly those of us who do care and are active in the caring and reputation and brand of our schools should call out those who offer negative comments about our institutions but don’t do anything to deserve the right to offer an opinion (see: donate back to their program/major, create scholarships, etc.)

I started this off by showing a parallel between BGLO shirt wearers and flippant HBCU alums. My Regional Convention is coming up next week, and only those of us who paid our dues are allowed to attend, to vote, fellowship, and receive the full benefit of being a member. I like this model, because it requires us to put our money where our mouths are.

I only wish something similar could be done to those who only are around for Homecoming.

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