By Tykiera Haley
The two-part season finale of the Oprah Winfrey Network drama series Queen Sugar saw Micah West, played by Actor Nicholas L. Ashe, inform his mother Charley (played by Dawn Lyen Gardner), that he has chosen not to attend Harvard University. In the 12th Episode of Season 4, Micah announces he wants to be close to his community and will attend a Historically Black University instead, naming one in New Orleans: Xavier.
His decision to attend an HBCU to study political science and art, with an emphasis in photography evoked the response: “How dare you,” from Charley. His mother blames Nova (Rutina Wesley) and Keke, his girlfriend, played by Actress Tanyell Waivers for influencing his decision not to go to Harvard. It was a choice that resonated with African American college students who must sometimes go against their parents or advisors in choosing to attend an HBCU today.
The plot connected to the series’ cast members. Waivers, who surprised viewers in New Orleans at a watch party for the season finale episode on September 11th, shared that her parents were also alumni of an HBCU: Xavier, making Micah’s decision even more significant for her.
“It hit home for me. It felt like I was seen, like parents were seen …they feel more valuable knowing that the schools they went too meant something,” Waivers said at the watch party held in the University Center on Xavier’s campus.
She also offered a few encouraging words for high school students who identify with Micah’s situation.
“Embrace the journey and also embrace patience,” Waivers said. “Life has its detours but embrace the opportunity you are given and whatever [you] end up choosing, even if it wasn’t your first one, embrace it,” she added.
The series cast members also recorded inspirational video messages for younger viewers at the watch party. Waivers encouraged students to continue believing in the mission of HBCUs and to never back down from the odds.
Micah’s decision prompted students to revisit the debates over attending an HBCU and a predominantly White university, and even an Ivy League university. Although some viewers said they felt unsure about his decision, Ashe’s character received overwhelming support from students who were able to identify with his choice to attend an HBCU.
“When we see HBCUs represented in the media, it’s usually the big three which are Howard, Spelman, or Morehouse, but never the smaller ones,” said Abena Garrett, as she and other students waited for the season finale watch party to start.
“Xavier is an underrepresented HBCU and we don’t get the credit that we deserve, so seeing that representation o
n TV is so exciting, especially as a student,” Garrett added.
And while Xavier ranks among one of the top five Historically Black colleges, its graduates lead in becoming Black physicians in the country. The school also has one of the top-ranked pharmacy programs in the South. These successes are often told about the institution, however students said they were happy to see that Micah wanted to attend the HBCU for a non-STEM field: political science and art. The institution also produced the city’s first Black woman elected as mayor, and countless visual artists. Students said they were happy to see the episode spotlight liberal arts and social science programs as well.
“Usually people think that Ivy League schools are better and that [Xavier] doesn’t compare, but Micah is smart and he’s showing us that a good education isn’t only an Ivy League thing,” said Kierstyn Brent, a sophomore at Xavier, who attended the watch party.
Tanyell Waivers with the Xavier basketball and cheerleading team on Wednesday, Sept. 11th
This article originally appeared in New Orleans Data News Weekly.