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HBCU Graduations

At Morehouse, I learned to listen, appreciate and tell others’ stories

Atlanta University Center was a safe haven for me, but not for others

Morehouse was an escape route for me from a world that would rather not see me. When I was applying to colleges in 2016, racial tensions had peaked across the United States as white supremacists felt more emboldened and justified in their behaviors after the rise of then-President Donald Trump.

I knew a predominantly white institution wouldn’t be the healthiest place for me to grow as a young Black man. As riots broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, during my freshman year, I was comforted in knowing that Atlanta University Center (AUC) was my safe space and that all three historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) stood strong to protect their students.

Then, I started listening.

Growing up a biracial child, with my father being the Black parent in my household, everything I understood about being Black in this country came from the perspective of straight Black men. It wasn’t until I got to Morehouse and started listening to my peers that I understood how damaging that was.

While I felt safe behind the gates of Morehouse, I did not realize how that space negatively impacted others. By November of my freshman year, I caught a glimpse as the #WeKnowWhatYouDid campaign was launched by students across the AUC detailing their experiences of sexual assault, as well as the experience of not being heard by the Title IX offices of AUC institutions.

The Spelman students who led this movement were tired of being ignored. They were never silent about what was happening in the AUC, but they felt so unheard that they took up vandalizing the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel with the words, “Practice what you preach Morehouse + End rape culture.”

Within a few months of being in school, the idea of the AUC being a sanctuary or utopia was completely erased for me. Morehouse particularly has failed students over and over again throughout my time at the school, and my feelings about it are guided by the struggles others have faced.

I do appreciate that Morehouse gave me an opportunity to examine all of the complexities of Blackness and the struggles that come when we don’t listen to Black women. White students are afforded this opportunity at all points. They don’t have to worry about their race and how it impacts the way their school or peers look at them. HBCUs offer that to Black students, where our shared experiences and racial identity aren’t a constant burden of thought. Instead, we get to focus on the nuances of being Black and the diversity that comes from our experiences.

Sexual assault and failings of Title IX offices are not unique to HBCUs, but we can add the nuance of race to the conversation when it comes to us. Black women and their stories are ignored by the larger world, but within this space, Morehouse has the opportunity to learn from these stories and do better ourselves.

Looking back, I would have told myself to listen sooner and to listen better. I spent a lot of time caught up in the spaces that I felt comfortable in or that I could directly see myself in, so I didn’t take the time to learn more about other people. It wasn’t until much later that I saw this value. As I work on personal growth and look forward to this next chapter after graduation, I have to make sure I continue to amplify and listen to the stories that most don’t hear.

Graduating from Morehouse during a pandemic and finishing my last year and a half of school from home have given me a new appreciation for this lesson. It’s harder to just listen as spontaneous conversations have been nearly eliminated. Everything now is a planned Zoom call and our interactions with strangers are more limited than ever.

Parker Owens

I still find ways to make sure that the conversations I do have are enriching. I missed out on a lot of opportunities and experiences from my senior year. I don’t get to just sit around the cafe and talk with my friends anymore. Everything is now intentional, and I need to do whatever I can to make sure that those conversations can be just as valuable as the ones that were spontaneous.

I need to make sure that in this next stage of my life, I continue to have conversations and listen, no matter where or how the conversations take place.

Parker Owens is a senior communication studies major and journalism minor from Broward County, Florida. He is a news and sports writer for Morehouse’s The Maroon Tiger and a contributing writer for NewsOne.