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‘A Different World’ still inspiring my generation of black college students

Show is no longer on Netflix, but the love still lives in our hearts

I know my parents love me, stand behind me come what may. I know now that I’m ready, for I finally heard them say it’s a different world …

Sound familiar?

These verses are from one of the best sitcoms from the late ’80s and early ’90s: A Different World.

Created as a spinoff of The Cosby Show, A Different World’s initial premise was to follow Denise Huxtable’s journey at historically black Hillman College. Later it came to focus on the trials and tribulations of the infamous Dwayne Wayne, Whitley Gilbert, Freddie, Ron and Jaleesa. In 2017, the series enjoyed several re-reruns and marathons airing throughout the year on TV One, celebrating its 30th anniversary. Many millennials like myself were too young to watch the show while it was in production. Then we had the opportunity to experience Hillman College on Netflix, until it was removed earlier this year. A lot of us took it hard.

“After finding out that A Different World was being taken off Netflix, I felt like somebody ripped my heart out and crushed it. I know it’s just a TV show, but that’s what I used to base my college experience off of,” said Sydney Donaldson, a junior at Bowling Green State University.

In its six seasons, A Different World featured many aspects of the black college experience, such as sharing a dorm with black roommates who are superdifferent from you; fully engaging in homecoming while still getting your schoolwork done; experiencing the difference between dating, talking and flirting; and, of course, attending step shows, halftime shows and various aspects of black fraternity and sorority life.

Although A Different World took place on the campus of fictional Hillman College, many historically black college and university (HBCU) students believed they had a personal connection to it. This may be because the show was filmed at Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. The range of issues covered on the program made it relatable to black students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) as well.

“I attend a PWI, but I don’t feel distant from A Different World because I can face the same issues that they did in the show,” said Donaldson. She referred to an episode from the fifth season in which Dwayne and Ron got into a fight outside of a football game when some white students from the other school began spraying the N-word on Ron’s car. “When the 2016 election was taking place, I felt as though the same situation was going to happen here because I go to a school where there is a high active KKK rate. Through this, I recalled how Dwayne and Ron handled their situation, which helped me tremendously.”

Evette Booker, a senior at Ohio Valley University, said the show inspired her to celebrate blackness on her campus.

A Different World allowed me to open dialogue on my PWI. A group of individuals and I created our own Black Student Union so that we were able to celebrate ourselves and be carefree and intelligent, just like the characters in the show,” she said.

Whether you started watching A Different World from the beginning, in 1987, or just started watching the reruns in 2017, fans agree that there hasn’t been, nor will there ever be, another A Different World.

Many students had high hopes for a next-generation HBCU-related TV show. The Quad, which featured a fictional HBCU in Georgia, aired on BET in February 2017. However, fans of A Different World believed they were let down.

The Quad shines a horrible light on HBCUs and black people in general. It supports the typical stereotypes and the argument of HBCUs being irrelevant. A Different World was always positive and taught a life lesson. The Quad is just drama and problematic,” said Saidah Scott, a 2014 graduate of Hampton University.

Nevertheless, the show had enough support for another season, which premieres in January. We’ll just have to see if the show can stand the test from fans for seasons and seasons, as A Different World did.

I’m debating whether to watch the new season of The Quad, but I am definitely ordering a Hillman crew neck. (I see them all time on my college campus at Hampton University.)

Dwayne, Whitley and the entire crew have been my inspiration for black love, high achievement at a black college and postgraduate successes. I’m sure other students, graduates and A Different World fans nationwide agree the show made an impact or warmed our hearts in one way or another.

I’ll be keeping in mind a lesson taught by the theme song for A Different World: “Here’s a chance to make it, if we focus on our goals, if you dish it, we can take it, just remember you’ve been told, it’s a different world from where you come from.

Kyla L. Wright is a Rhoden Fellow and a sophomore journalism major, graphic design minor from Detroit. She attends Hampton University and writes for the Hampton Script.