Dillard Today Newsroom
To elevate its newsroom with robust reporting, Dillard University’s Office of Communications
and Marketing will highlight the lives of students with in-depth feature articles.
In the Spring 2019 semester, Dillard Communications Specialist Lauren R.D. Fox and University Photographer Sabree Hill interviewed Thompson Cook Honors students DarLinda Wright and Seantrell Lemar. After 10 weeks worth of research and interviews on their respective cultures and towns, Fox and Hill wrote and photographed the importance of what it means to be a honors student at Dillard University in 2019.
Dillard’s Thompson Cook Honors Program was named after Drs. Daniel C. Thompson and Samuel D. Cook who elevated the discourse around critical issues in the United States. Their work challenged everyone to examine their position on essential social issues and to commit to addressing inequities where they existed. Dean and University Director of the Thompson Cook Honors Program, Dr. Nia Woods Haydel said, “There is nothing more meaningful than to have our Honors students working to uphold the legacy of these two academic giants.”
“One of my goals is to make sure our students and the Dillard community remember the commitment to excellence that our namesakes required and motivating them to live up to this expectation.”
Out of approximately 1,300 students, 10 percent of the Dillard student body is enrolled in the Honors Program. Of the 136 students who are in the program, 29 are University Scholars and 52 are Presidential Scholars. These scholars receive additional aid for their lodging and education. For the past four years, a member of the Thompson Cook Honors Program has served as the University’s graduating valedictorian.
Dr. Haydel chose Seantrell and DarLinda to be featured because their varied experiences.
“Seantrell represents everything one would instinctively attribute to an Honors student. He is a student leader, involved in numerous organizations, has excelled academically, is highly visible and vocal,” she noted in an interview. “DarLinda is making her mark in a quiet way, gently leading from behind. She is a leader in student organizations, but you may never know. And she challenges her peers to examine their ideas and beliefs but in a quiet way. Both approaches are meaningful and add value to our learning environments. I believe strongly that it is critical for other students to witness that although all of the Honors students are focused on academic excellence, there are differences that exist among them as well. And most importantly, students need to know that there is space for all types of students in our program.”
Dr. Haydel believes Dillard Honors students represent W.E.B. DuBois’ The Talented 10th Theory.“These students have the potential to change the culture -- to start and carry a movement. Honors students keep us all on our toes. They inspire me to be the best I can be because they set the bar with their ambition, enthusiasm and drive. I am proud that the students we have in our Honors Program represent the vision of DuBois and are elevating the intellectual discourse on our campus,” she said.
Headline: Seantrell, The Alpha, The Scholar, The Achiever
Author: Lauren R.D. Fox
Author’s Note: Esquire Magazine published an in-depth feature article on Ryan Morgan, 17, from Wisconsin for their “American Boy” series in February 2019. Although the transcription was not problematic, it did, however, become a viral offense. Black Twitter and its alliances believed Esquire, known for expressing the male curiosity, passion and perspective should have covered a Black man since the report was released during Black History Month. They also maintained that the public is oversaturated with White Anglo-Saxon stories. These documentations do not scratch the surface of the rich narratives found in men who are American but labeled as “other” and unimportant. This account of Seantrell Lemar, 20, is a response to the languorous journalism hemmed in the pages of Esquire (and other editorials) that run rampant during the Trump Era.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost… He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a [Black] and an American. - WEB Du Bois, member of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc.
What Makes An Alpha: A Recipe
If you’re a lover of philosophy and Pythagoras’ Numerology, you would believe it was Seantrell Lemar’s divine right to become a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Seantrell was born en route to a hospital located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, on February 22, 1999. Based on the Numerology life path formula, his life path number is seven, a number revered by the men of Alpha Phi Alpha because it pays homage to their seven Founders, dotingly known as The Jewels. The number seven is also valued because it symbolizes intellectual agency, practicality and structure.
These principles flow through Seantrell though his gentle, affable demeanor may allow for others to imagine that his kindness is mutually exclusive with weakness. He claims that if it wasn’t for the fraternity and its appetite for social engagement, he wouldn’t have learned that his boy-next-door personality could exercise boundaries. “I saw that there was potential in me to not be a pushover and it’s really big to me to grow as a person and I knew based on (the Alpha men in my life and the work they do) that the fraternity would bring out [similar qualities]in me.”
Despite the presumption that Seantrell matured when he crossed the burning sands, his matriculation into adulthood began when he was a child. Growing up in Vacherie, Louisiana, to single mother, Weneesha Lemar, Seantrell is often credited with keeping their household of six organized while she worked multiple 10-hour shifts to make ends meet. “Seantrell has always had a calm spirit; he would rarely get upset, even as a baby. Always calm and always nurturing. [sic] I mean, I’m the mom and if he senses anything [off] or if I just say I’m coming home late, he’s asking if I’m okay because he’ll say ‘Oh well it’s 9:30 (p.m.)’ and you’re usually home by this time or if his sister needs anything he’ll jump in and do it for me,” Ms. Lemar remarked about how fiercely helpful and protective Seantrell is of her and his siblings.
Unlike other African-American men who shared parallel life experiences with Seantrell, he didn’t grow up in a metropolis nor did he have accessible transportation to run errands for his mother. Vacherie does not have a metro or bus system, much less a Walmart or any other popular supermarket chain. Lyft and Uber have yet to offer services within or from the Vacherie community. Nevertheless, Seantrell always remained driven to ensure that his family lead a well-adjusted life whether it was him helping to baby-sit, cook or clean their three-bedroom trailer home without the bells and whistles some of his peers were afforded by living in robust cities.
In spite of these minor differences packaged in his Vacherie upbringing, Seantrell is a living testament to the prayers his ancestors whispered in the midst of plantation violence and squalid housing. Slavery in Vacherie and greater Louisiana is often depicted as gingered employment that gave kidnapped Africans the opportunity of living in what was then a French colony. And although the picturesque town of Vacherie has been the backdrop of several Oscar-Award winning films, making cinematographers’ jobs a hair flip; in French, vacherie means terrible, dirty trick or a person who is disingenuous; making its history on brand with its French definition.
When he came of age, Seantrell began to work at the local Oak Alley Plantation as a tour guide, sharing the history of what happened to those before him. The money he earned as a tour guide allowed Seantrell to apply and enroll in college. Not only did he get accepted to college but he also received scholarship money that amounted into six figures. “Since he was in sixth grade, Seantrell was in the gifted and talented program with his cousin Breanna,” Seantrell’s aunt and Breanna’s mom Veda Bailey relayed as she prepared her Sunday chicken dish. She continued to shine a light on Seantrell’s achievements. “ Yes girl, they took all their classes together and even got their Associate’s together. He told you, right?”
Entering college with 60 credits, Seantrell didn’t rest on his laurels. Instead he took his 3.7 grade point average on tour and got accepted to Boston University’s Early Medical School Selection Program on March 20, 2019. Together, he and Breanna Bailey (who is also a Dillard student) will study medicine in Boston during their summer breaks until they fully transition into their first year of medical school in the Northeast city. “I love their relationship! I’ve watched them study; oh my Lord...watched them study. Mhm, yes! And when Breanna says she’s with Seantrell, I know I can count on him to watch out and support her. I’m so happy they are going to Boston together,” Mrs. Bailey exclaimed as she washed her hands.
Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
Seantrell’s acceptance into the Early Medical School Selection Program (EMSSP) didn’t come as a surprise to his mother. Although the highly competitive program could have swayed with another choice applicant, his mother revealed she fasted for him to get this opportunity. “I prayed and fasted for him...stood in the gap (just in case he didn’t get accepted) but we already claimed he was going to get in.” When asked how she felt about Seantrell moving from Louisiana to Massachusetts, Ms. Lemar began to tear up, as she shifted herself on the family couch.
“Um. Actually I’m okay with it,” she said sighing. “I have to step out on faith and believe [this will work out] because I don’t want to hold him back or scare him. He’s really come into his own. He’s blossomed from this shy boy who always stayed indoors. Outdoors was never his thing growing up. [Until] he started the gifted program at school and that exposed him to different people and challenged him to speak up.”
The EMSSP was developed in 1982 by Boston University and a consortium of HBCUs to increase the number of Black medical professionals. Boston University reports, “the program provides an early [and] gradual transition into the medical school curriculum through emphasis on study skills and early exposure to graduate-level coursework during the summer terms after sophomore and junior years and the final undergraduate year. Students who meet all program requirements can expect to be promoted to the School of Medicine upon completion of their undergraduate education.”
Ms. Lemar has unyielding faith Seantrell will be successful in the aggressive program. “He’s grown so much and I think he can handle it because he’s already away at school and doesn't come home every weekend.”
“He is getting accustomed to being on his own and because of that, I’m okay with it. I think he will do good,” she continued, sharing her belief that this moment in his undergraduate career is vital for Seantrell to build the foundation for his future family.
“He’s going to branch out.”
In the following section, Seantrell shares his childhood experience of transitioning from a predominantly Black school to a diverse academic setting. He also explains what it felt like to be labeled “not Black enough” by his Black peers because of his high IQ while simultaneously not be accepted by his White peers. These experiences shaped his decision to join Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and navigate against toxic (Black) masculinity.
In His Own Words When I first transitioned from a predominantly Black academic setting to a White one, I knew I was different. Since there weren’t many other Black students in the gifted program, it took some time for me to adjust to my new environment.
Although I developed friendships with the other students, I became more shy and quiet than I was at my old elementary school. Over time, I gradually learned how to come out of my shell and I could see those changes within myself around my sophomore of high school. Once I graduated high school I transitioned back to an all Black academic setting. [I know] Dillard University is an HBCU but I didn’t know much about HBCUs in general. So when I arrived, it [was] a [culture] shock because I hadn’t been in that type social setting in so long.
I didn't have trouble adjusting to Dillard's academic rigor but it did take time to adjust being around more Black people. Specifically, I had more trouble interacting with the male population. I’d always think to myself: Would my personality and behavior really fit into this environment? It’s almost like I didn’t know how to be around Black people. Engaging with my peers wasn’t the problem; it was more so trying to determine if my behavior would be “Black enough.”
It took some time for me to break that habit of differentiating between “Black Seantrell” and the “Other Seantrell” who masked his blackness in a predominantly White setting. As time went on, I learned that I didn’t have to hide parts of myself because I was around people who looked and talked like me plus we shared similar experiences.
At young age, I knew I didn’t fit the mold of a stereotypical Black male. When I was younger, I always felt different because I was one of the few Black boys (that I knew of ) devoted to education. None of my childhood friends were in the gifted program with me. Also, I never participated in activities people associated Black boys to take participate in. I remember playing sports with neighborhood friends and family, but that gradually stopped when I switched schools. From that point, I lost interest in watching football and basketball games. My dad was in my life but he wasn’t heavily involved at times. On top of that, the majority of my family members are women, so I never had a male role model to guide me or introduce me to things other boys considered normal.
These issues from my childhood carried into adulthood. I know I still don’t fit the mold of what a Black man should look like. I have a tall, skinny build, and that makes me somewhat insecure. Girls and relationships are not in the picture and I feel they still aren’t due to the fact that my education is always at the forefront of my mind. This was a huge factor that makes me feel separated from other Black men, because if you’re not focused on girls in the slightest way, it’s considered weird. But it has always been instilled, both directly and indirectly to focus on my studies.
Society creates this pressure for Black men to behave a certain way. What we see and hear when we’re young leaves a huge impression and ultimately plays a part in who we become. So if Black men are taught at a young age that a man must do this and that, then that’s what he’ll continue to believe unless told otherwise. The parts of his personality or actions that don’t align with what he sees as the [norm] will be hidden.
It goes deeper than just what our fathers do or have taught us, but rather what Black men from the past have been through. For example, they were taught to be the “rock” in their families and never show any emotions. So the belief that people want all Black men to be monolith stems from what they believe to be “tradition.”
[The same goes for toxic masculinity in fraternities]. Men who are in fraternities may be hesitant to speak out against bad behavior because everyone in the organization may still be looking for different ways to be accepted. I have to say though, my experience as an Alpha man has been the exact opposite. If anything, I’ve discovered [I can be who] I really am rather than trying to repress parts of myself I didn’t know I had as a result of wanting [to appease] societal expectations.
I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. because I saw [my brothers] as the role models I would have liked growing up and I want to be that for other Black men who have no one to guide and support them. When I saw [the work that they do, it was like a switch went off in my head saying this is what I need, that’s what I want! [The brotherhood] is an experience that I can’t put in words, but I am grateful to be an Alpha man and [utilize] the influence it gives me in a positive way.
Alpha Phi Alpha Founders Day Hymn
In our dear, A Phi A, fraternal spirit binds
All the noble, the true and courageous.
Manly deeds, scholarship, and love for all Mankind,
are the aims of our dear Fraternity.
Alpha Phi Alpha; the pride of our hearts
and loved by us dearly art thou.
We cherish thy precepts, thy banner shall be raised.
To thy glory, thy honor, and renown.
We hold ever aloft, noble ideals and aims,
carrying out earth's and heaven's grand command.
Our true hearts ever strive, success' goal to gain.
That our dear Fraternity's praises may be sung.
College days swiftly pass, imbued with mem'ries fond.
And the recollection slowly fades away.
Our renowned A Phi A and dear fraternal bond.
May they ever abide and with us stay.
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