Morehouse’s ‘Man on a Mission’

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 5/17/2013, noon
A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. towers over the plaza on the Morehouse College campus as a constant reminder ...
John Silvanus Wilson Jr., Morehouse's new president.

A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. towers over the plaza on the Morehouse College campus as a constant reminder of the attributes that young men selected to attend the liberal arts school should possess by graduation - quiet dignity, intelligence and immovable determination to change the world.

Those intangible qualities, that proud mystique, ostensibly define a Morehouse man.

It is that world-class image that Morehouse’s new college president John Silvanus Wilson Jr., a 1979 alumni, is fighting to preserve at a time when some people question the relevancy of historically black colleges and universities.

Fewer young men are choosing Morehouse’s brand of single-gender education, which currently costs students living in dorms with a roommate more than $19,000 per year. Alumni donations are down.

The ills of society have crept on campus, tempting some students to veer off their charted course for academic success. Their public missteps threaten to damage the distinguished reputation of the Atlanta school with a 2,360 enrollment.

Parents say Wilson -- who served as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities for four years -- has the background and connections needed to restore Morehouse as the school of choice for the sons of the black elite and the upwardly mobile middle class.

Wilson has landed President Barack Obama to speak at commencement on May 19. And now he’s preparing to launch a massive push to restore a cultural renaissance at Morehouse in the wake of recent troubles at the school.

Four underclassmen athletes at Morehouse were recently charged in connection with the rape of women in two separate incidents that occurred over Spring Break.

“The trouble goes to the heart of why I’m deeply concerned about pursuing character preeminence at Morehouse,” said Wilson. “We want to educate and graduate smart people who are also good people who are inclined to do the right thing. We are not just developing men here; we are developing Morehouse men. One way we underscore the difference between the average man and the Morehouse man is distinctive character.”

After jumping into the administrative office mid-year, Wilson says he will spend the summer brainstorming ways to make moral education as important as academics at the school. Wilson said he intends to sift through policies that have been abused by some students, including the rule against overnight visitors.

Some say violations of that rule contributed to an atmosphere that resulted in the alleged rape of a woman on campus.

In the first incident, Morehouse basketball players Malcolm Frank and Shukwudi Ndudikwa were accused of raping an 18-year-old female student on campus in the East Suites in March. Another Morehouse student, Tevin Mgbo faces kidnapping, reckless conduct and sodomy charges in the attack.

In a second incident, a female student accused Lucien Kidd, a Morehouse football player, of raping her off campus.

But neither the arrests, nor the national headlines Morehouse generated when former president William Bymun instituted a dress code that banned cross-dressing on campus, revealing the sexuality of some students at the school, has damaged the Morehouse brand irreparably.