New reality show prompts outcry from Langston alumni

Saturday, March 5th 2005, 4:17 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Nudity, heavy drinking and foul language isn't exactly what alumni at Langston University want to have associated with this historically black college, tucked away in the northeast corner of Logan County in central Oklahoma.

But that's what some alumni say a new reality television program airing on Black Entertainment Television is doing.

The second series of ``College Hill,'' which was filmed over six weeks last fall, began airing Jan. 27 and features the antics of eight college students who lived together at a Western-themed ranch near Langston. The show is scheduled for a 13-week run on BET.

``I've seen the program, and I think it's a disgrace at best to put Langston in the light they have with nudity, ghetto language and unrestricted use of alcohol,'' said Ron Willis, 67, a 1991 graduate and a member of the Langston Alumni Association.

Outrage from some of Langston's 20,000 graduates prompted the association to demand the network air promotional advertising about Langston, said David Stephens, president of the Langston Alumni Association.

``We thought the program didn't really do the things we wanted as far as promoting Langston,'' Stephens said. ``But now we're seeing that start to happen.''

Michael Lewellen, vice president of corporate communications for BET, said the decision to air the promotional spots was a good fit for the targeted audience of the show, and not necessarily a reaction to the alumni's concerns.

``I wouldn't necessarily call it a response to the outcry, as much as it was a good idea that was brought to us by the university,'' Lewellen said, ``and certainly Langston, the alumni and the student body stand to gain from the airing of those spots.''

Israel Jacobs, 21, a sophomore from Pawnee who was featured on the show, said he isn't sure why there is so much controversy. While he admits some of the cast members used profanity and one occasionally walked around nude, he said normal college students often do much worse.

``It's really not that bad,'' Jacobs said. ``Some of the things weren't morally correct, but that's everyday college life. That's how things go down.''

Each of the cast members has a uniquely different personality, and Jacobs said when they were all put together in the same house, it wasn't surprising that drama unfolded.

``It's like putting a cat, a dog, a lion and a tiger together in the same backyard and expecting them to be good,'' Jacobs said.

From the very first episode, it was obvious some tension would develop when Jacobs learns an ex-girlfriend, Brittnai Lewis, also was picked to live in the house. Another roommate, Jon Walker, constantly starts squabbles with his housemates and strolls through the house nude in more than one episode.

Network promoters highlight the show's ``baby mama drama and streaking naked through the house, to steamy Jacuzzi scenes and late-night antics that occur behind closed doors,'' although most of the episodes are relatively tame.

And while drinking, party scenes and romantic bedroom moments are shown, the program also features profiles of Langston professors and coaches, sporting events and other campus activities.

After watching the episodes that have aired so far, Peaches Jaspar, a senior from Alabama, said she felt the show's producers edited the footage so that only the most volatile situations were depicted.

``We're just students being exploited, basically, and everybody's coming down on us,'' said Jaspar, who said cast members were paid $100 per week. ``Some of us might be drinkers, dancers, partiers or whatever, but that doesn't have anything to do with Langston.''

In a Feb. 7 letter to the head of the Langston University National Alumni Association, Langston President Ernest Holloway said BET's use of Langston students on the show was fully supported by the school's administration.

He also downplayed any negative impact the show might have on Langston.

``There has been no known damage to Langston University's image other than what a few overreacting alumni are expressing via e-mail,'' Holloway wrote. ``The value of the positive benefits that the university experienced far outweighed the negative that some may have seen in the episode.''

Dr. Raymond Downs, vice chancellor for student affairs at Southern University, said alumni raised similar concerns after the first series started airing on BET, but that enrollment has increased in part because of the exposure the university received from the program.

``What we found is that the young people loved it,'' Downs said. ``We also found that it was great in terms of our recruitment.

Lewellen said the program continues to receive high ratings and is ideal for targeting a young, black audience.

``If you look at all the menus of reality shows out there, there's not one that features an all African-American cast,'' Lewellen said. ``By focusing on these individuals in a collegiate setting, you're looking at an element of black college life, purely through these individuals.

``Certainly it's not a sweeping descriptor of the black college experience.''