Lion's Experience at Florida A&M University
When I talk to my friends who attended HBCU’s, I keep hearing the same types of stories…how the school itself seems to haze students who are trying to get their education. From registering for classes on, there are all these institutional challenges that are rationalized in the name of “toughening the students up”. But is that the point of the experience? Or getting a good education? Here’s one testimony:
”It’s true. FAMU was the same way.
What made it such a shocker for me was that here I was coming from a school district where you could count the number of Black faces on one hand (at the time) where things WERE done a certain way and very little, if any exceptions, were made.
Then I turn DOWN a full ride to Kent State (only 4 hours away by car) to go to what was supposed to be a full ride with a paid internship to boot to FAMU (a 20 hour bus ride)… and I had other scholarship money when I went down there.
1.) I find out when I got there that there was going to be NO internship. Why? Because I was a music major. Of course, I wasn’t informed of this when I was awarded the scholarship.
2.) FAMU reduced the amount of my full ride by the amount of the other scholarship money I was awarded and applied it to the "balance."
3.) The scholarship – called the Life Gets Better Scholarship – insisted I apply for financial aid every year… and in my second year strung me out before they paid my bills because my parents refused to supply them a statement of my autistic brother’s SSI. (social security something…) I finally got fed up and got it.
4.) My third year, the LGB scholarship strung out paying the bills all the way until two months into the spring semester. Why? "Apparently" Mom filled in the wrong code on the Financial Aid form.
5.) When they did pay up, instead of the stipend for two semesters (total of $2000) I was expecting, I find a bill for $580. I went to the LGBS office and asked what the hell that was. The coordinator – and she was doing her best to get me kicked off scholarship and tried to provoke me – informed me that was because I had been taking more than 15 hours.
I admit… That was true. By that time, I had taken 12, 22, 17, 19, 20, and was in the middle of a 21 hour semester at that point. My contract never specifically told me I couldn’t. It just said I had to take 15 hours.
By the way… that 12 and the 22? I was supposed to be added into a Calculus II class. I went faithfully and aced it. I came to find out I wasn’t registered… (after I spent days getting overrides… and this was my first week at FAMU that I did that!) so I made an arrangement with the teacher and registered the Spring Semester and didn’t have to go.
6.) Being on scholarship, I wasn’t supposed to work. It was against the rules. If I hadn’t been working – playing piano for Campus Ministries and accompanying at a middle school in town – I wouldn’t have had the money in the bank to go and pay the damn bill so I wouldn’t be taken out of my classes.
7.) I was stashing away that money – and waiting on my stipend money – so I could pay for summer semester of school, graduate a year early, and get the hell out of there. Since they balked at paying everything AND I had to pay the rest of my Spring semester fees out of pocket, I was now short $2600. I had already applied to do my student-teaching and arranged for a DIS with the College of Education to get my last class in.
8.) I wrote a letter to the President of FAMU (Frederick Humphries. Don’t trust his ass to shine your shoes…) and the LGBS Program and dropped copies of it over the university… My academic advisor. Asst. Dept. Chair… Dept Chair… Dean of Arts and Sciences… and the Provost. I dropped one at the School newspaper too, but they refused to touch it with a ten foot pole.
In the letter, I laid out the cost of the paid internship I didn’t receive, the stipends I didn’t receive, and the money I paid out of my own pocket. I still have the letter around here somewhere, but I think the total ended up at around $15000. (Years later, I looked at the letter and thought to myself… "Dumbass, you forgot to add in THIS and THIS!")
I then calculated the amount of money it would cost for them to keep me for year 4 and laid it next to what it would cost them to pay for summer semester and get rid of me… which would be a savings to them of I think $6000.
I received a call informing me that my request for second semester had been approved.
9.) So… Summer, I’m student teaching in Jacksonville, FL and already registered for my DIS. Sometime during the middle of the time, I start getting a gut feeling something is going on. Mom is acting all funny on the phone and so is the Music Secretary. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was pulled out of my classes… and I was right. FAMU sent a letter to my house saying that I was being withdrawn from my classes for nonpayment.
10.) Mom and the Music Dept. Secretary harangued and harassed the LGBS Coordinator – Dedra Azonobi-Oneal… – who promptly outright LIED to the Music Dept. Secretary and said everything would be cleared up. My father was flipping out because they didn’t have $3600 lying around. A family friend – who may as well be my grandmother – pulled the money out of her account, gave it to my father, and told him to just pay it off. It was YEARS before me or even my mother knew this!
11.) After I finish my student teaching, I find out that all record of my registering for my DIS was wiped… the week before graduation. They claimed I never registered. I knew it was bull. I had to go to the Dean of College of Education, get a letter, and go to the Registrar – who cussed me out – and get a few other people to flex to get that pushed through.
12.) I graduate Summa Cum Laude. (3.9 GPA) Three years. Thought I was done…
13.) FAMU decided to withhold my transcripts because they claimed I owed $1200. I snapped, raised holy hell, and told them like HELL I did. They "found" the memo on a desk… At least, that was what I was told over the phone.
14.) I ordered a transcript for each graduate school I applied to and ordered three to be sent to my house. I received only one in the mail. I called down… They claimed they sent the transcripts. I told them that was a lie because I knew what I ordered. The woman hung up the phone on me.
15.) When I had my graduate interview at Indiana University, I confirmed that FAMU NEVER sent my transcripts. The sad thing was that I was carrying the lone sealed one I had in my coat… and I handed it personally to the Dept. Chair.
There’s all sorts of other stuff I didn’t mention… One example:
The night before I had a 7:30 A.M. Final Exam, I was waken up at 2:30 A.M. by six Campus police officers walking into my dorm room. "Health and Safety Welfare Inspection." They spent the next hour and a half searching my dorm room and asking me questions… while I was sitting on my bed butt naked and hiding my balls from view of the female police officer who stood in the doorway the entire time snickering and smiling.
After my exam, I called the police station and asked what the hell that was about. He said the RD requested it and told me that he was not allowed to tell me anything specific. I asked the RD and he didn’t know anything about it. I called the police officer back. He started getting pissy and I KNEW I had him nailed. I told him I wanted him to come down and discuss it with the RD and me in the office. He refused, chewed me out, and hung the phone up on me.
If you love your children, DON’T send them or even allow them to consider an HBCU… Yeah, I said it. I can say it. You can even tell someone that I said it. I don’t care.”
Is this an exceptionally bad experience? Or can others tell similar stories? HBCU’s are such important institutions for our community…can we make them work better for the students?