The following commentary is a first person account
by the authors.
The students charged in this incident were not
expelled. See AP story, December
On Wednesday November 2, 2005, at Hampton University,
the progressive campus group affiliated with Amnesty International,
United Students Against Sweatshops, and Campus Anti-War Network
held a student walk-out on the issues of New Orleans urban renewal,
AIDS crisis, homophobia, the prison industrial complex, the war
in Iraq, and the crisis in Sudan. The organizers for the group
had been planning the action for some time, and promoted it with
radio announcements, posters around the campus, and handing out
fliers at campus group meetings. The planned activities included
speeches, chants, poetry, and musical performances. Earlier that
day, an international student was subjected to intense interrogation
by the Dean of Women and was told by the Hampton University police
that she would be shadowed by a cop. At twelve noon Brandon King
began to speak to about 75-100 students in the Student Center about
our plans for the day. We handed out information on the Iraq war
and the Katrina disaster. Then armed HU police abruptly shut down
The HU police booked several people just because they
were wearing stickers and other paraphernalia that advertised our
events. They booked people who weren't even wearing paraphernalia
because they looked suspicious. The police used hand-held camcorders
to record the faces of the activists without our permission. They
attempted to intimidate the student onlookers by their random targeting.
Three of us were singled out as leaders by the Dean of Men and HU
police, who temporarily confiscated our student ID cards. The next
day, one leader of our group, Brandon King, was told by a Hampton
University Lieutenant Detective that, despite the fact that he was
a "hometown athlete," he would be expelled if he did not
cooperate and give up the names of other group members.
Now Brandon, three sophomore activists, a junior activist,
a non-affiliated supporter and John Robinson have all been summoned
to an administrative hearing for violating the code of student conduct
by "actions to cajole or proselytize students," "distributing
and/or posting unauthorized information," and "violating
the administrative guidelines for student demonstrations."
The students were given notice at 5:00 p.m. Friday, November 18
to appear at an administrative hearing at 10:00 a.m. Monday, November
21. This short notice obviously made it virtually impossible for
the students to organize support from lawyers, parents, witnesses,
other students, and sympathetic organizations both on campus and
in the wider community. Nevertheless, the Administration received
many calls and e-mails and agreed on Monday morning to postpone
the hearings indefinitely. Upon returning to school from Thanksgiving
break on Monday, November 28, the students learned that the hearings
had been rescheduled for Friday, December 2.
Shortly before the break, students met with local
reporters in a nearby shopping center owned by the Administration.
As the students described to the reporters the repressive conditions
they face at Hampton University, a Hampton University cop, sent
by the Dean of Students, confirmed the students' allegations. He
pulled his squad car to within inches of the camerperson and cut
short the interview by stepping inbetween the cameraperson and the
student interviewee. After the reporters put their camera away,
the police still demanded that they leave the property. The video
footage of these events was shown on the nightly news. The story
also appeared the next day as the cover story in the local newspaper,
The Daily Press. The Dean of Students, in turn, wrote a letter
to the editor of The Daily Press, responding that the school encourages
peaceful protest, and the kids who face discipline refused to use
the legitimate routes. This letter was mass copied and two copies
were placed on every dorm door on campus.
Repressive Rules, Selective Enforcement
It is clear that the school seeks to quell all social
activism by maintaining repressive rules and selectively enforcing
them against any progressive student activism. "Actions to
cajole and/or proselytize students" constitute an offense that
is so vague and broad that virtually every student, teacher, and
administrator is guilty of it every day. To "cajole"
is defined as trying to influence or manipulate others through insincere
arguments, which is something Hampton administrators routinely do
to students. Every recognized student club on campus to some extent
attempts to "proselytize," that is, to persuade students
to adopt a specific orientation or actions. This rule is vague
so that it can be selectively enforced in the interests of the Administration.
Moreover, the school's concern about the actions of
our group speaks to a much deeper issue. The Administration itself
has long been guilty of attempts at cajoling and proselytizing black
students with its strict assimilationist program. The most profound
contradiction in Hampton's program is that it aims to make its black
students ignorant of the racism which pervades our society, while
fostering an elitist and individualist culture that works to the
detriment of the Black Community. The accused students merely attempted
to challenge the corporate bourgeois indoctrination prevalent at
Hampton and to promote ideas more attuned to the interest of the
community and humanity in general. It is only in the sickest sense
that the promotion of human rights-related issues can be seen as
an attempt to convert the students from one persuasion to another.
The school makes no attempt to educate its black students on any
of the issues, and seems to prefer cultivating political docility
and subordinance instead.
The students also face charges of violating the guidelines
set forth by the Administration on student demonstrations. It has
been our experience that the provisions which control student demonstrations,
as delineated in the Student Handbook, effectively prevent any expression
of dissent, and therefore any semblance of democracy. This is because
any demonstration, march, vigil, or rally on campus must be called
by an officially recognized student group and approved in advance
by the Chief of Police and Director of Student Activities. Any
student group that might call for such actions never gets recognized
by the Administration in the first place.
Hampton University's Administration has shown time
and time again that it will not recognize, nor give any legitimacy
to our organizations and our causes. We have repeatedly been denied
access even to the Administration's own procedures through which
groups are evaluated and then either recognized or denied recognition.
Our applications have never been afforded the hearings and votes
to which we are supposed to be entitled. The Administration, whenever
it feels like, simply announces that "there is a moratorium
on new student organizations".
In refusing to acknowledge and recognize the groups
that they suspect to be prone to protest and activism, the Administration
of Hampton, in effect, bans activism on campus. This is what has
long been enforced at Hampton University. The violations outlined
in the hearings summons were only technicalities, created by the
arbitrary and repressive policies of the Administration itself,
which seek to deny any free and independent social and political
expression by Hampton University students. And now the Administration
has informed the accused students that they can be expelled for
their offenses. More and more students at HU believe, however,
that their school's disdain for democratic principles is unacceptable
and must, at all costs, be resisted.
The Administration was very clear in its opposition
to our agenda from the very beginning. When we put up the posters
and fliers across campus at night, they organized police teams during
the day to march through the campus and snatch down every paper.
But the corporate elitist ethos cultivated by Hampton still had
to be counteracted, so we put up more…and more. The administrative
response was always swift but never swift enough, each time more
overtly repressive than before.
Meanwhile, students and other groups, whether officially
recognized or not, routinely pass out unauthorized fliers and put
up unauthorized advertisements on campus daily. The advertisements
are usually promoting parties, bars and other venues for alcohol
consumption. The Administration rarely interferes with this activity
and never punishes those who engage in it. But the activists at
Hampton put up posters about a social justice-oriented student walk-out,
and passed out information on the brutal, highly unpopular War in
Iraq, and they alone are threatened with the penalties outlined
in the student handbook. This selective enforcement of the rules
reveals the true nature of the Hampton Administration.
The Hampton Model as Apparatus of Exploitation
Some of the Hampton police who harassed us said that
they just "had to do their job." Just for clarification,
their bosses are the University President Dr. William R. Harvey,
who is a Bush appointee to the Federal National Mortgage Association,
and a Board of Trustees bounteous with Bush-Cheney campaign beneficiaries.
A close friend of President Harvey, especially relevant to this
discussion is the commencement speaker he selected this past spring,
Alphonso Jackson, Bush's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Jackson has made a priority of cutting back access by poor black
people to subsidized Section 8 housing. Shortly after hurricane
Katrina, Jackson told the Houston Chronicle that most of the black
population of New Orleans should not be allowed to return, and that
New Orleans in the future will be a predominantly white city. The
University president has often shown this same contempt for the
Black Community. A recent example is when he was asked by a few
members of our group at a Town Hall Meeting, the reason why the
school did not have an AIDS awareness group. President Harvey responded
that we probably did not need one because everyone knows about AIDS.
The women did not accept that answer because they knew that AIDS
disproportionately affected Blacks, and the Hampton Roads area was
in the Top ten AIDS infected areas. They started a campus AIDS group
the next week.
Students at Hampton University have become accustomed
to, although not content with, the school's restraint of free thought
and expression. The issue has arisen publicly before with the Hampton
school of journalism. In 2003, a student writer for the supposedly
"student-run" campus newspaper, "The Hampton Script",
wrote an article about the school cafeteria and its 100-plus health
code violations. The Administration wasn't particularly enthused
about how the information would affect the school's image – so they
seized all copies and destroyed them. They also basically purged
the staff, attempted to expel the student writer, and created a
task force to supervise the creative process of the newspaper. This
task force, chaired by the University's Dean of Students, who has
no journalistic credentials, made several "recommendations"
to the newspaper staff. One worth mentioning here states that "Oversight
and guidance from a faculty advisor (or advisors) with adequate
journalistic knowledge and an appreciation and commitment to the
Hampton Model are necessary." This model was used in the academic
programs of other HBCUs. And while the faces and tactics have changed,
the underlying principle is nonetheless the same.
When providing an even closer look at the educational
environment of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs),
one will gain a clearer understanding of its purpose in society
and also the setting for which student resistance to its educational
model originated. William Watkins explained how with the creation
of HBCU's more specifically, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute
(now Hampton University) "played no small role in creating
a comprador class for the twentieth century. Black compradors have
anchored the Black South. They have been pious, conservative, obedient,
and loyal to the sociopolitical order. They have supported gradualism,
incrementalism, and non-violence over revolution. They have provided
a sometimes prosperous middle class without which the capitalist
economy could not have stabilized. They have acted as a buffer in
the South, providing business services, education, religion, fraternal
orders, and hope to a people battered by slavery, sharecropping,
violence and four centuries of oppression."
An avid proponent of this as an educational model
that creates these pseudo-progressive results was the founder of
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, General Samuel Chapman
Armstrong. Armstrong's true feelings of blacks should not go unmentioned
due to how these beliefs guided him in administering education to
blacks. Armstrong felt the black "does not see 'the point'
of life clearly; he lacks foresight, judgment, and hard sense.
His main trouble is not ignorance, but deficiency of character;
his grievances occupy him more than his deepest needs. There is
no lack of those who have mental capacity. The question with him
is not one of brains, but of right instincts, of morals and of hard
work." Armstrong placed blacks in the category of "savage
races" that were "mentally sluggish" and "indolent."
Character training was/is the only way blacks could be salvaged.
This is why Hampton University's educational model is so significant.
It is not just schooling, but also it was/is, as Watkins puts it,
"saving a race from itself."
The most prominent black advocate for this model was
Armstrong's neophyte Booker T. Washington. Because blacks faced
oppression and political repression on a daily basis, W.E.B. Du
Bois felt this reality should not go ignored. He pleaded with Washington
to address these realities by stating, "It is wrong to encourage
a man or a people in evil doing; it is wrong to aid and abet a national
crime simply because it is unpopular not to do so… We have no right
to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest
of disaster to our children, black and white." In saying this,
Du Bois draws the line between himself and supporters of Armstrong's
and Washington's form of education and indoctrination. When black
students rebel against the existing social order, they are looked
at as deviant because they buck an educational model that truly
does not function in their favor.
Student Resistance Through the Years
At Hampton University in 2005, this student resistance
has been more intense perhaps than ever before. In the wake of
such social atrocities as the Katrina disaster, black students have
achieved a much higher degree of political consciousness than in
previous years. The student activist group at Hampton, whose members
are now being threatened with expulsion, has worked tirelessly for
years promoting consciousness on social issues and providing ways
for students to become involved.
In the Fall of 2002, students attempted to get Dr.
Taye Wolde-Semayat, a former political prisoner in Ethiopia and
President of the Ethiopian Teachers Union, to speak on campus.
He had been released following a five-year campaign by Amnesty International,
the National Union of Teachers, and teachers' unions around the
world. Hampton University refused to allow him to speak on campus.
The Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Bennie McMorris, signed
a form which would allow for Dr. Taye to speak on campus but later
rescinded his signature and refused to allow the event to take place
on campus. The students got a local church as a venue for Dr. Taye
to speak. These students also organized massive carpooling for
students to attend the event. Over 200 people, including community
and church members, students, and faculty attended the event which
was held two miles away from the campus.
After this event, our organization continued to fight
to be a recognized organization on campus. We were met with an
Administration that repudiated the idea of recognizing an organization
that sees as its mission advocating, promoting, and mobilizing people
to fight for human rights. Each year we applied for recognition
and have been consistently denied access to the democratic process
to which we are entitled. Not only has our organization been denied
recognition, but other socially conscious and politically aware
groups have also been denied. To date, there are no progressive
groups on the campus of Hampton University.
Securing the Future
That has not stopped us from organizing. We've managed
to have our meetings in random classrooms on campus through developing
really good relationships with campus workers. Many students see
the need to address social justice issues through activism and education.
Even though the University does not provide an environment conducive
to activism or allocate any resources to our group, we've managed
not only to function, but to grow. Our membership has increased
exponentially and the members are more passionate than ever. The
Administration is now attempting to stifle this growth by singling
out the next generation of activists and trying to scare them into
committing themselves to the Hampton Model.
When the HU police and Administration stopped our
gathering, some of the members of our group felt demoralized. We
thought that the intimidation of students by the Campus police and
Administration meant that we had failed. But seeing how energized
the campus became after the incident helped us change the way we
saw the situation. Although the police prevented us from making
the point that we intended to make, the students ultimately were
made conscious in a much deeper way that could not have been achieved
through our speeches and poetry. The students saw what their school's
Administration was really for by seeing what it was against. Students
saw first hand what happens when students stand up for human rights
and social justice. So many students openly express their anger
with the way Hampton handled the situation. Students have been
very supportive and sympathetic with what we are doing at Hampton.
Students who wouldn't normally have been involved are now compelled
to be active after watching their school reveal its "true colors."
The Administration was so arbitrary and ruthless that it threatened
an unaffiliated supporter with expulsion. It seems that even moral
support for activism is a grave violation to Hampton's Administration.
These recent events have exposed the true nature of Hampton University,
its educational model, how it fits into the rest of society, and
above all else, why it should be resisted.
As students face administrative hearings that promise
to be as grossly undemocratic as the proceedings thus far, it is
imperative that we send a message to Hampton officials that they
cannot get away with this. We have gotten much support from students
on campus, as well as individual and groups outside the school who
share our passion and recognize the interconnectedness of our plights.
However, we still need a lot more. By singling out the younger
activists, the school figures it can "nip activism in the bud"
and it is thus our duty to make it clear that they can do no such
thing. It is vital that African Americans are able to express their
concern about the issues that so uniquely and disproportionately
affect our community. This remains true despite the large sums
of money the university receives from the military and other places
for maintaining a docile student body.
We aim to act not defensively, but counter-offensively
in our resistance. It is not enough to just ask the Administration
to leave us alone in this one instance. We intend to illuminate
problems that perennially have plagued the campus of Hampton and
we therefore DEMAND that Hampton University drop all charges against
the five students and change its general policy toward social justice-oriented
groups on campus. We will not accept this denial of democratic
procedure, nor the school's betrayal of the Black Community. We
are black students and we will no longer be cajoled by the flattery
of a dishonest Administration nor proselytized to the ways of the
corporate elite. We will not forget about our people. We will
not be intimidated. Fight not for us, but with us because the actions
of the Hampton Administration and the increasingly frequent campus
repression happening nationally, ultimately threaten us all.
Call the school! Let Hampton Administrators know how
you feel. Tell them to drop all charges against the students, recognize
the activist club as an official student organization, and craft
a free speech policy that doesn’t criminalize dissent.
Dr. Bennie McMorris,
Vice President for Student Affairs
Dean of Men
Dean of Women
John Robinson is an organizer at Hampton University.
He is one of the students charged in violation of the Hampton University
Student Code of Conduct. He is a senior sociology major from Washington
Brandon King is also both an organizer at Hampton
U and one of the students charged in violation of the Hampton University
Student Code of Conduct. He is a senior sociology major and a native
of Chesapeake VA.
For updates on the situation unfolding at Hampton
University go to
Anti War Network
Hampton University Students
Hampton Students' Right to Protest!
And for support please send email to [email protected].