The recent dust up about Hampton’s b-school ban on cornrows and dreadlocks for men is surprising to most people, with the exception of people who actually went to Hampton. Why? Because Hampton is NOTORIOUSLY uptight; this is the land of curfews and dress codes for people old enough to vote and fight in the Army. And the story isn’t really that new; my freshman year (2003) there were grumbles and complaints about the same rule. So why did this story get a second life?
I’m venturing to guess that some freshman complained. And the local news picked it up. But back in 2003, there was no Facebook or Twitter to amplify the ridiculousness of the story; the 24 hour news cycle was still in its infancy. Social media and the desire to point and gawk at odd news from the farthest reaches of the globe have taken Hampton’s patent conservatism worldwide. Now, outlets like Gawker and Black Enterprise and HuffPo are weighing in on the issue, which isn’t a bad thing, but for a school so wrapped up in “image” I’m sure the recent press is not the type of publicity the administration wanted.
I found myself punching at the air in frustration when I read of my alma mater’s foolishness. Why? Because as I sat at my desk, at my corporate job, in one of the most corporate cities in the world (Washington, DC), with my dreadlocks brushing past my shoulders, I directly contradicted the point of the ban. More importantly, I wanted more for my school. I wanted it to grow past the idea that “image” trumps “talent and hard work.” I wanted the administrators to recognize that to be a leader, a thinker, a creator, what’s inside of your head matters more than what grows from it (but to have too many free thinkers and rabblerousers on a college campus is a scary thought). And I wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, the school had changed since I left in 2007. It’s too bad that I had to go to a large, private PWI for grad school to learn that being independent and yourself, however that is expressed, is ok.
In Mychal Denzel Smith’s Root essay he notes that the lessons he learned at Hampton from trying to push back at the HU administration were valuable. I agree. For all the hooping, hollering and headaches I caused at my Home by the Sea, I got a lot of in return: bonds with friends that I will carry for the rest of my life, the ability to articulate my thoughts and ideas to people in power, even when they disagree or tell me no, and a true understanding of the term “there is a time and place for everything.” Yes, Hampton is a private school, and yes, it can dictate the rules as it sees fit. But it’s not 1953, or hell, even 2003, and if the school wants to attract and retain new students or keep the press out of its hair, it should consider focusing on what really matters – academics.