As a first-year student at Morehouse College, Alex Bibb, 21, said the N-word every other sentence. Now a graduating senior, the word has nearly disappeared from Bibb’s vocabulary.
Morehouse is hoping to duplicate Bibb’s development from boisterous adolescent to trenchant Morehouse man with its new “Free Zone” campaign, focused on eliminating the use of cursing, sagging pants and the N-word from residence halls. Beginning this semester, every dormitory is a designated “Nigga” Free Zone, No Saggin Zone, and No Cursing Zone.
“We are not making it mandatory that you cannot say the N-word or curse or sag your pants. We want people to have an understanding of how these things affect the community,” says William Tweedle, first-year resident director of Hubert Hall at Morehouse and founder of the “Free Zone” program.
Disturbed by the frequency in which residents used the N-word and other expletives in casual conversation, Tweedle initiated the “N-Free Zone” campaign at Bowie State University in Maryland in 2004. Faculty, parents and administrators extolled the program, Tweedle says.
“The N-Free Zone was something that was started in two male residence halls, and in dealing with it some good things came out of it,” says Gladys Watson, director of residence life at Bowie State. “We were trying to make an impact on young men’s lives. We felt that [the program] would help them become better men. The majority of our residence hall programming is geared in that direction.”
Morehouse hopes adopting similar efforts will change attitudes and behavior.
“After starting the program, my residence hall at Bowie State became a model building,” says Tweedle, noting that issues of sagging, cursing and violence all subsided. “The good behavior even spread to our visitors.”
Bibb, an international business major, currently lives off campus, but recognizes the need for such a campaign.
“By the time that you graduate, you learn that you have to dress and speak well. President Franklin’s daily charge for students is to be renaissance men who are well read, well spoken, well dressed and well balanced,” says Bibb. “But a system to help students dress better and speak better earlier could prove helpful.”
While students like Bibb and other student organizations such as Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. have endorsed Tweedle’s program, others have reservations about the use of the N-word.
Opponents of the program question Tweedle’s blunt use of the word “nigga” in the program’s signage.
“People commonly ask why I don’t just use ‘N-word,’” says Tweedle. “It’s because we’re not dealing with ‘N-word.’ People are not saying ‘N-word.’ They are saying, ‘N-i-g-g-a.’ With the youth, you can’t beat around the bush. You have to be direct.”
The college isn’t penalizing students for using the word, it is trying to discourage it, says Anthony DeCosta, resident director of Morehouse’s Living and Learning Center. “I pull students to the side and we have an intellectual conversation about the N-word or sagging pants. We sit at a computer, and I pull up websites and poetry about what the N-word and what it really means.”
On Nov. 5, Tweedle will host a meeting for students and residence hall advisors to communicate their thoughts and concerns about the program. Tweedle and DeCosta plan to spread the campaign to other schools in the Atlanta University Center.
“We are not trying to eliminate the word. We are trying to diminish the word. When you go out into the real world using the N-word, cursing and sagging your pants is something that you will not do, DeCosta says.
Since taking the office of president at Morehouse a year ago, president. Franklin has emphasized the significance of image. During his inaugural address, he told students, “We are Morehouse, and we will not tolerate sagging pants.” No do-rag. No baseball caps inside buildings.”
Morehouse expected to join the ranks of HBCUs that have instituted dress codes such as Paul Quinn College in Dallas and Hampton University in Virginia.
“Our president, Dr. Robert Franklin, has a vision of what a man should be,” DeCosta says. “What we are trying to create here at Morehouse College is the ‘renaissance man.’ What Tweeddle is doing with his campaign coincides with that vision.”
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