On Wednesday afternoon, we reported the story of four Morehouse students who have been arrested and charged with crimes relating to several sexual assaults. Bossip, an online gossip site posted a story about the incident on its site. The story was fairly straight forward, a copy and paste from an online news site giving the details that were in at the moment.
The problem, however, was the headline:
HBCU Thugs: Four Morehouse College Athletes Face Rape And Kidnapping Charges After Sexually Assaulting Spelman Students
There are a few things wrong with the headline, two of which could have been solved by Journalism 101. First, the headline states that four men face rape charges, when in fact, Tevin Mgbo is charged with aggravated sodomy, kidnapping and reckless conduct, but NOT rape. Secondly, these men have not been convicted on these charges. As sickening as these charges are, as far as the law is concerned, these men are innocent until proven guilty, so to say that they have sexually assaulted their accuser at this point is potentially libelous.
The biggest problem with this headline is the term “HBCU Thugs.” This term is problematic for a number of reasons. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been a building block of African-American life since they began to spring up in the 19th century. They have produced many of our greatest thinkers, creators and leaders. But these days, several HBCUs are struggling to survive and many question the relevance of their existence in the 21st century.
One of the biggest problems HBCUs as a whole face is an image problem. There is a perception by some, including many African-Americans, that HBCUs are of a lower status than majority institutions. That they admit students who are lazy, criminal or simply do not belong at a place of higher learning. Don’t believe me, search twitter.
As a media outlet that caters to a predominately African-American audience, one would think that Bossip would be aware of this and avoid such inflammatory language. I’m sure the headline would raise a few more eyebrows if it were posted on a site not closely associated with the urban community. However, the fact that Bossip is highly consumed in the African-American community is even more concerning. This headline plays into the stereotypes and stigmas that many students at these institutions have to face in the real world.
It is extremely unfair and irresponsible to tie the supposed actions of a few students at one institution to those at over 100 colleges and universities around the nation. So unless Bossip plans on labeling athletes who commit crimes at SEC and ACC schools as “PWI Thugs,” it needs to stop sensationalizing HBCU-related incidents.
We all know Bossip is not the Associated Press or ABC News, but it does have a powerful voice in the African-American community. It’s one thing to get cute with headlines about the latest celebrity hookup or meltdown, it is another to fuel stereotypes that have a real world impact.
Do better, Bossip!