"A Different World" is a television sitcom that aired in the late 1980s and ran until the early 1990s. The show was a spin-off of "The Cosby Show" and depicted the life of students at Hillman College, a fictional Historically Black College/University (HBCU). The show was known for its positive image of HBCUs and influencing enrollment rates. Here's a list of the top 14 things the show accurately depicted about the HBCU lifestyle.
1. Diversity within the black community
Forget the stereotypical black television characters! The characters on "A Different World" came from different backgrounds prior to college and thus had developed differing and complex characteristics. They ranged in terms of physique, race, class, birthplace, major and overall attitude. The same is seen on campuses of modern day HBCUs where students come from different economic classes, races, and countries. Stereotypes are washed away and students are free to just be themselves.
2. The Dwaynes and the Rons
It isn’t uncommon for ladies at HBCUs to dream of a “Dwayne Wayne” in their life, but let’s not forget that Dwayne's best friend was Ron. Ron who cheated on Kim with Freddie. Also, both boys came to college as hormonal, eager teenagers. They acted a fool with the new found freedom of college and the breadth of beautiful black women. Sounds like anyone you know?
3. HBCU vs. PWI
This is an all too familiar debate for HBCU students and alums. The television show not only showcased that a black college was capable of being a successful, high-caliber institution, but also addressed this argument directly in its episode "Here's to Old Friends" where Dwayne tackles this issue with an old friend that attended a PWI.
4. Visitation struggles
Even though the show originally aired in 1987, the visitation rules back then still apply to HBCUs today.
5. Roommate love and rivalry
The show chronicles the developing relationships roommates have with one another. One of the most memorable being Whitley and Kim who developed a love/hate antagonizing friendship. HBCUs can relate to this, seeing that often times dorms are a bit smaller and intimate. Therefore fostering intense, long lasting friendships with roommates and floor mates.
6. Dorm rivalry and support
The love doesn't stop at just roommates. Friends that dorm together, stay together. Any rival dorm that challenges that bond will feel the wrath of hyped college students who will do anything for a neighbor. This is evident through HBCUs that have annual dorm competitions and step shows.
7. Tough love from professors and administrators
Students on the show had their fair share of berating from teachers and other faculty members. The same goes for HBCU students who know what it's like to feel the shame that comes with letting down a mentor.
8. Bring awareness to issues in the black community through discussion and civil involvement
It wasn't uncommon for episodes to tackle issues concerning rape, pregnancy, HIV, race and more. HBCUs carry on this legacy by hosting classroom and panel discussions. HBCUs are a safe space to release ignorance and gain enlightenment on social issues. Beyond that, students are also encouraged to exercise their right to take take part in politics and other civil duties.
9. Addressing administrative/social problems
HBCUs have a long history of student activism. Administrative short comings have recently been a focal point for HBCUs. Oftentimes highlighted by news outlets and students' own public defaming of their HBCU via social platforms like Twitter. Through episodes like "Radio Free Hillman" and "Citizen Wayne," the show showcased that students can tackle problems through the proper channels. This shows the mentality that students should not just complain about their issues but be a part of the solution.
10. Greek Life
Even though the main characters on "A Different World" pledged fictional fraternities, they still depicted pledging life back in the day. Extras were also regularly seen in paraphernalia for the nine Nation Pan-Hellenic Council organizations (Divine Nine).
11. Fashion sense
Do I even need to elaborate?
12. School paraphernalia
There is no short of school paraphernalia on an HBCU campuses and Hillman routinely did the same by having actors wear paraphernalia in support of HBCUS.
13. College isn't an easy path and not everyone makes it
Students at Hillman and HBCUs face the common struggles of college life. From the hunt for jobs and internships, to financial issues, to struggling to stay in college all together. After the first season Denise dropped out of college. Later on, a former Hillman drop out, Leticia "Lettie" Bostic, became a Resident Director. Everyone's path isn't as straight forward as we plan to be. College has its bumps in the road and HBCU students eventually become all too acquainted with this phenomenon.
14. Black excellence
The price of not making it is a bit higher for PoC. That's why HBCUs strive for Black Excellence. Together the show's main cast made it through their college years together. And together HBCUs continually produce young professionals that will continue to impact the world.