Ratings for BET’s new HBCU-set drama series “The Quad” aren’t public yet, but the Anika Noni Rose-led freshman show has drawn mostly good reviews from TV critics, scoring a 70 (out of 100) on aggregator Metacritic; for example, Entertainment Weekly’s Nivea Serrao said, “‘College-set shows are nothing new, but The Quad proves there is still fertile ground to explore in terms of original storylines and drama, with the series serving up both with no problem. The show may not make you want to go back to school, but it’s certainly worth dropping in on once a week.”
And based on social media activity during the nights the drama airs, “The Quad” certainly has a fan base.
However, one person of prominence who isn’t happy with the show at all, is Hampton University (an HBCU) president, William R. Harvey.
Dr. Harvey, who has been president of Hampton for 39 years, strongly feels that the series, set on a fictional historically black college campus following the lives of the faculty and students, misrepresents HBCU tradition and legacy. Harvey penned a scathing letter to BET head honcho Debra Lee (picked up by HBCU Digest) in which he stated:
“Devoid of any reference to academics, ‘The Quad’ is about a president who is promiscuous, trustees who are unwilling to deal with a rogue band director, and a band director who condones criminal activity on the part of his drum major… ‘The Quad’ will lead many to believe that HBCUs exist because of their marching bands; that our presidents are unethical; that our boards are dysfunctional and have misplaced priorities; that our faculty, students and administrators are driven by sex, alcohol, marijuana, low self-esteem, parties and a preoccupation with music; that it is acceptable to disrespect women; that university policy can be set by a band director; and that there are no standards of conduct or penalties for bad behavior. This depiction seems more analogous to a disgruntled, adolescent and unrealistic point of view that some may have. It also feeds a false narrative about the irrelevance of HBCUs.”
And that’s not all… Harvey went even further in the letter to say:
“We cannot afford this kind of storytelling. It amounts to the type of ‘fake news’ that is prevalent today. You see, all that most people know about HBCUs is what they see on television. What I saw…. was not accurate; rather, it was a bogus representation of very important and historic institutions.
I invite BET to visit Hampton to see the good, hard and important work our students and faculty, as well as our athletic directors and band leaders, do every day… The negative monolithic messaging being put forth by BET in ‘The Quad’ should be reconsidered. I will implore my friends, colleagues and students around the country who attend, work at, graduated from, serve and support HBCUs to speak out about the fact that ‘The Quad’ is not reflective of HBCUs and their wonderful contributions to the higher education enterprise.”
Other HBCU presidents have reportedly joined Dr. Harvey in his condemnation of the show. However, BET has yet to respond, as of the time of this post.
Now one could argue that Dr. Harvey is missing a key point here. “The Quad” is after all a fictional drama series, not a documentary. Therefore, as with the traditions of scripted drama, liberties can be, and are taken, and so it really should not be any surprise if a work of fiction emphasizes the – shall we say – more “salacious” aspects of the show’s premise, something that its audience might be drawn to as a form of entertainment. After all, the series has to attract viewers; and this is BET, not the National Geographic channel for example.
But on the other hand, maybe Harvey does have a point. What good is a series which is set at an HBCU if all it, as he states, “seems more analogous to a disgruntled, adolescent and unrealistic point of view that some may have,” feeding “a false narrative about the irrelevance of HBCUs”? Obviously “The Quad” is not (at least so far it doesn’t appear to be) anything like “A Different World.”
Does Dr. Harvey have point, or is he being too sensitive? Have you seen the show and, if so what’s your response here?