The road from Boston to Morehouse College inevitably goes through Sean Daughtry.
The 1993 graduate of the nation’s only all-male, historically Black college is president of the Atlanta school’s alumni chapter in Boston, and informally interviews boys hoping to become Morehouse Men.
“If you live in Boston and your son wants to go to Morehouse, I’m going to hear from him,” says Daughtry, a chemist.
The science of determining who is Morehouse material goes beyond a student’s resume, Daughtry says. While some cases are obvious, others need a closer look.
“Not every person who is intelligent is necessarily a person of integrity, character and good moral judgment,” he says. “And there are certain things that you look for in a young man who might not have the most stellar resume, but still has the desire.”
Morehouse is expanding its admissions process to include interviews of all serious candidates. The school says it won’t make a decision on anyone until the prospective student has had a conversation — either in person or over the phone — with a school official or an alumnus who has been through recruitment training.
The changes come after several recent high-profile crimes involving Morehouse students. Though administrators deny any tie between the bad publicity and increased scrutiny of potential students, they acknowledge the interviews are an attempt at getting more to the core of each candidate’s character.
“What we’re looking for is some sense of whether or not the kinds of traditions and philosophical, ethical and moral beliefs we have here are compatible with the student who is looking at Morehouse, and making sure he understands the real expectations we have of students on our campus,” says Terrance Dixon, the college’s associate dean of admissions and recruitment.
Morehouse has traditionally interviewed some candidates — typically those touring the campus or competing for merit-based scholarships — but not all. Last year, the school received more than 2,600 applications and offered admission to about 1,800 students. About 860 accepted.
Dixon expects the new interview requirement to improve student retention, which is currently at about 60 percent.
“We’re talking about whether or not the student feels comfortable in our environment,” he says. “We’d hate to have a student come here and be miserable.”
Some of the crimes involving Morehouse students can’t be ignored. In 2002, one student’s skull was fractured when another attacked him with a baseball bat because he thought the victim was gay. Last summer, the body of 23-year-old student Carlnell James Walker Jr. was found in the trunk of his car after police say four former students broke into his home and bound, gagged, beat and stabbed him — looking for a $3,000 insurance settlement check that Walker was expected to receive.
Daughtry says he was concerned by the incidents, but doesn’t blame the school.
“The times being what they are, you’re going to have some instances where the larger society is going to be reflected in what you see on campus,” he says. “When an institution like Morehouse has a history and a tradition of … bringing up the character of young men who are expected to be leaders in their community and in their chosen field, there’s no place for criminal or nefarious activity in that paradigm.”
Concern over behavior or disciplinary problems is not unique to Morehouse, since many colleges are paying more attention to discipline as a factor in admission, says David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. And Hawkins says it is common for schools to interview candidates, but not many require it for admission. Those that do tend to be elite.
“The competition for seats at those colleges is so keen, and the number of applications is so high that those colleges are paying that much closer attention to who they let in,” Hawkins says.
And with many high school seniors sending out multiple applications to increase their chances for acceptance, interviewing students can give administrators a better idea of a student’s commitment to their institution. Morehouse’s acceptance rate of 48 percent last year is on par with the national average.
“It’s tough to determine who’s serious,” Hawkins says.
However, Morehouse’s student body vice president, Tony C. Anderson, is worried his school’s new interview policy could hurt the chances of free-spirited, independent-minded candidates of being accepted over those potential students who show up wearing a business suit, no facial hair and are more inclined to conform.
“What about the free expression of a student?” Anderson asks. “College is a very fragile period in a person’s development. It’s about testing the boundaries of who you are.”
Daughtry says he won’t let stereotypes prejudice his screening.
“Some concerns are simply generational,” Daughtry says, noting that young men wearing earrings raised eyebrows when he was an undergraduate. “But that does not speak to what’s in their hearts, what’s in their character, their level of integrity.”
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