The nation’s most highly ranked HBCUs for nearly 10+ years have been accredited to the brother/sister duo of Morehouse and Spelman College, however, despite their mutual accolades and accreditations the institutions have been criticized for developing toxic heteronormative cultures, that are not uncommon norms within single-gender institutions.
Morehouse College is the nation’s only all-male HBCU, known for alumni along the lines of Martin Luther King Jr., Samuel Jackson, and Spike Lee. Spelman is 1 of 2 of the nation’s only all-female HBCUs, next to sister institution Bennett College.
Both institutions are known for producing some of the nation’s best African-American doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc., and are recognized as “Black Ivy League” institutions.
Being that they are single-gender institutions, their campus cultures revolve highly around brotherhood/sisterhood along with each institution having its pillars that its students are expected to withhold and value post-grad.
The mission of Morehouse is to “develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.” The steps the institution takes to achieve this mission are to cultivate men who “demonstrate acuity, practice integrity, and exhibit agency,” according to the Morehouse College website.
Within a student’s matriculation at Morehouse, their campus culture is instilled in them through private events such as “crown forums” (panels/speakers/presentations), and within their classroom settings.
Similarly, Spelman works to develop the same tone of greatness with its mission of being “dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students. Spelman empowers the whole person to engage the many cultures of the world and inspires a commitment to positive social change,” in correspondence with the Spelman College website.
Their strategic plan to ensure their students develop into the ideal Spelman alumna post-grad focuses on the “delivery of the Spelman promise, elevat[ing] the Spelman difference, enhanc[ing] operational excellence, and promot[ing] academic innovation.”
While single-gender schools aim to promote campus environments catered toward the well being of their students in a setting made specifically for them, they often offer more limitations to growth than what is publicly broadcasted.
For example, “boys taught in single-sex schools are more likely to be divorced or separated from their partner than those who attended a mixed school by their early 40s,” reported by Professor Diana Leonard, from London University’s Institute of Education.
Leonard’s study of 17,000 adults stated that “All the research shows single-sex schools are good for girls but bad for boys – both in terms of academic performance and socialization.”
This is so as all-male institutions like Morehouse promote ideologies of supreme manhood, often pandering patriarchy and thus assisting in the development of toxic masculinity. While on the other hand, all-female institutions offer room for women empowerment and work against gender stereotypes.
Morehouse College, in particular, has been critiqued by Georgetown Law Professor Jill Morrison for “represent[ing] the perfect storm of homophobia, racial and class anxieties of exceptional negroes, masculine gender trouble, class conflict, and fundamentalist religious baggage, or as some might say, ‘heritage or tradition.’”
While there is plenty of importance in institutions’ historic missions, especially at HBCUs, as time moves on, single-gender institutions need to progress alongside society. Without doing so, seemingly elite, high-ranked institutions will hold reputations of producing some of the nation’s best men and women while sending out alumni who represent the complete opposite.
Doing so will only contribute to the demise of single-gender schools and with there being three single-gender HBCUs left in the nation, there is no room for loss.