Op-Ed: Coverage Unfairly Stains N.C. a&T’s Reputation

(Last Updated On: October 13, 2017)

*Editor’s note: This op-ed originally appeared on The News & Record’s website and will appear in their Sunday paper. The following op-ed was penned by Nicole Pride, the chief of staff at NC A&T University.

By: Nicole Pride, chief of staff at NC A&T University

A young man died in the early morning hours of Oct. 8 in Greensboro. Tragically, he lost his life in a fight at an apartment complex on the west side of town, the victim of a gunshot wound.

The death of John Cook, 22, of Charlotte was reportedly the 36th homicide in Greensboro this year. We feel a deep sadness in his passing and for the horrible aftermath that his family and friends are unfortunately dealing with now.

In disclosing news of the crime to media, the Greensboro Police Department quickly identified John as “a former student of N.C. A&T.” Given the timing of the incident, Piedmont Triad media outlets rushed to connect the tragedy to homecoming festivities at N.C A&T.

Cook had not been a student at N.C. A&T since 2014. Neither GPD nor any media outlet called the university to confirm his former-student status. The resulting rash of coverage, which continued through the following day, led many to believe, falsely, that John’s senseless murder had taken place at an A&T homecoming event or perhaps even on the university’s campus.

One particularly egregious report on Spectrum News breathlessly claimed, “This shooting makes the fifth consecutive year of gun violence surrounding homecoming weekend.” In conversation with representatives of the media outlet, we have yet to find any basis for that false claim.

Rather, this is the reality: As GPD itself notes through its communications office, “This year, as in years past, there has been very little crime at any sponsored A&T (homecoming) event,” a point underscored by the chief of University Police.

Nevertheless, the statement released by GPD served as the basis for media to irresponsibly connect the dots between a tragedy on the west side of town and a full calendar of homecoming events safely enjoyed by thousands of alumni and students, as well as many unaffiliated visitors, in east Greensboro. As one prominent A&T alumnus exclaimed about the coverage on social media, “I really wish that someone there would just make it STOP!”

We have asked ourselves in similar episodes over the years, why is this such a persistent dynamic in media coverage as it relates to A&T? Also, why is crime in the general vicinity of East Greensboro too often reported to have happened “near the A&T campus”?

In circumstances like these, we are often reminded of our identity as America’s largest historically black college or university. We are just as often reminded of how differently similar circumstances are described when they take place in the vicinity of campuses with different demographics.

The residue left behind by such thoughtless accounts creates a lasting and undeserved reputational stain.

Violent crime statistics filed by A&T with the FBI (all U.S. higher-education campuses are required to file such data annually) show that our university is just as safe as any large, public university in North Carolina — actually, safer than some. Crime is unacceptable in any circumstance, and it occurs no more commonly at A&T than elsewhere.

We all have a shared responsibility to make Greensboro a safer place to live, work and play. We call on our friends in the media and the law enforcement agencies that help keep the Piedmont Triad safe, to bring those unfortunate crime-reporting habits to an end and to begin thinking more critically about how they frame such reports.

Do details included prominently in such incidents serve to illuminate and enlighten? Or do they simply feed toxic memes that unfairly stigmatize certain places and people, with lasting, damaging reputational effects?

As we remember this young man, who years ago sought to find his place at A&T, we are reminded of other fallen Aggies, who were also taken from family and friends by violent crimes long before their time.

We pray for justice for all of them.