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Morehouse student leaders say they need bigger voice in school’s future

They want their concerns heard and respected, not marginalized as in the past

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

For 150 years, Morehouse College has built its reputation on shaping generations of black men and helping them find their “why.” But within the past year, the narrative has changed. The turmoil that plagued the storied institution during its sesquicentennial year has prompted many to question its future.

As the college heads into a new year, a new interim president has taken charge. Perhaps more importantly, new student leadership has decided to take a stronger role in shaping the school’s future. At the forefront of this rebuilding process are John Cooper, the vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA); Cameron Edge, the president of LYTEhouse; and Gian Ray, the senior co-chairman of the Campus Alliance for Student Activities (CASA).

CASA senior co-chairman Gian Ray is planning to hold events such as sneaker conventions and music festivals to improve campus life for his Morehouse peers, all students in the Atlanta University Center.

Photo by Isaiah Smalls III

“Last year, we reached our 150-year mark,” Edge said, “but it’s important for all students, incoming and continuing, to understand that in order for the institution to go 150 more years, it’s all on us.”

A university’s most important asset is its students. Cooper wants the concerns of his peers to not just be heard but also respected after concerns that Morehouse student voices were marginalized in the past.

“We are trying to make sure that [the students] have a prioritized voice,” Cooper said, “not just where, ‘OK, I hear you.’ But this is what the students want, and we are the most important aspect to your school, so this is what we recommend and you need to go through with this recommendation.”

The greatest asset afforded to SGA will be interim president Harold Martin. In a very short amount of time, he has garnered the respect of many students. Cooper, a graduating senior, even went as far as to refer to him as “student-centered,” which is very promising.

Cooper does not plan to stop there. While their voices deserve recognition, incoming freshmen often feel lost among the more than 8,000 students who inhabit the Atlanta University Center. As early as new student orientation, the Atlanta native plans to help ingrain the unconventionally high standard that all men of Morehouse are encouraged to hold themselves to:

“[New student orientation] makes us realize our true potential, and it’s like, ‘Wow, I never heard somebody tell me I could do this, I could do that. I now have this many resources to utilize,’ ” Cooper said, “and that’s kind of shocking to students — it’s a culture shock. So when people are culture-shocked, they are very impressionable.”

During this susceptible state, a lot will surely be thrown at them. The level of freedom afforded to a college student will be new to many, and some may get involved in things that only serve to deviate them from their purpose.

Enter LYTEhouse.

With the first four letters standing for Lifting Youth Through Enrichment, LYTEhouse is a new mentoring organization that serves the Morehouse community and beyond. Having overcome a bad start to his Morehouse career, Edge understands the importance of mentoring freshmen.

Edge’s freshman year GPA was 1.7. Rather than feel sorry for himself, the Brooklyn, New York, native used it as fuel. During the summer of 2016, he and four other students created an organization that focuses on mentoring not only incoming freshmen but the rest of the Atlanta community as well.

From holding toiletry drives that aid metro Atlanta’s notoriously high homeless population to providing mentors to local schools, LYTEhouse has already become a staple organization on campus. As Edge heads into his junior year, he wants his fellow students to know that the success of Morehouse means nothing if it does not support the community in which the institution resides.

“I want Morehouse to return to being the mecca of [developing] black men,” Edge said, “and I understand that in order to do so, we must learn how to accept and appreciate each individual within this school and respect all other men and women that are outside of it.”

Repairing Morehouse’s relationship with its surrounding community is extremely important.

As evident in the Spike Lee film School Daze, locals often resent students, who sometimes come off as condescending. Edge continuing last year’s charitable work will be imperative in helping show locals that Morehouse is an asset to the community.

If Edge’s responsibility lies in making his fellow classmates well-rounded, Ray’s lies in providing students various outlets to let off some steam.

W.E.B. DuBois referred to college as a place where one could engage in “hard work and hard play.” To put it simply, Ray works with the college’s administration to control the “hard play” aspect of college life. Whether choosing the artist lineup for homecoming or coordinating the Atlanta University Center’s weekly get-together colloquially known as “Hump Wednesday,” the Philadelphia native plays a vital role in shaping student life on campus.

“I see myself as an outlet for the students to try and help have programs that’ll improve their experience and make their time at Morehouse College memorable,” Ray said.

The importance of his position cannot be understated. A study conducted by the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education shows that participating in cocurricular activities has a positive impact on students’ college experience.

While the fruits of his labor showcase themselves in a more visible fashion, Ray emphasized the significance of supporting the less flashy organizations such as the SGA. If the students intend to be heard, awareness of the college’s current situation is essential.

“There shouldn’t be a town hall meeting that people aren’t attending,” said Ray, a graduating senior. “I feel like everybody should know what’s going on on campus at all times.”

Although each organization affects the campus in a variety of ways, their leaders share a common understanding. The fate of their beloved institution rests largely in the hands of their classmates. The discord of the past administration and the silencing of student voices are elements of a very unfortunate past. They by no means dictate Morehouse’s future.

As the expression goes, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The leadership at the helm of the student body, however, is on one accord and as strong as ever. Their effectiveness will help determine how much weight the name Morehouse holds in the years ahead.

C. Isaiah Smalls, II is a Rhoden Fellow and a graduate of Morehouse College from Lansing, Michigan. He studied Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies. He was Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon Tiger.