S.C. State students move forward despite controversy
Donelle White chose South Carolina State University because it had a strong ROTC program that could help him excel in a military career.
He proudly points out that among historically black colleges, only Tuskegee University in Alabama has produced more officers.
The 23-year-old from Jasper County has hunkered down and worked hard here, and he said he has learned a lot that should help him in the future.
But White is entering his senior year with trepidation. He and his classmates have watched the school’s leadership and financial struggles with growing apprehension, fearful that S.C. State’s accreditation will soon be at risk.
“If that happens, we won’t be able to graduate because our degrees would mean nothing,” the criminal justice major said. “I’ve come a long way. I don’t want to start over now.”
The departure of the school’s president and the recent resignation of two members of the Board of Trustees makes him worry that the situation is worse than students have been told. And it frustrates White that school officials won’t say more about what’s going on.
“We’ve got a lot riding on this scandal.”
Since she was a child, Tori Montgomery of Charleston knew destiny would take her to S.C. State.
After all, just about every member of her family has attended the school since her great-grandmother’s day. One aunt was a professor here, and her grandmother worked in the library.
Montgomery, an 18-year-old freshman, said she probably would have preferred a more racially mixed environment, but she enjoys the sense of family and community her school offers. The teachers care, and the students are eager to learn.
Montgomery has heard about the school’s problems but has faith that the school will right itself. “I’m still getting my education, still learning and moving forward. I love this school.”
Justin McKenzie came from New Jersey to be part of the Marching 101 Band.
“I knew nothing about Orangeburg, S.C., but I knew about the Marching 101,” the saxophonist said.
McKenzie, a 20-year-old sophomore, doesn’t regret that decision in the least, even with the turmoil the school is battling. The message on his bright blue T-shirt said it all: “Believer.”
McKenzie is studying political science with an eye toward law school down the road. Some of the school’s struggles have become fodder for discussion in his American government class. But he said he firmly believes his school will rise above these challenges.
“I’m a believer in my school,” he said. “I just have faith we’ll get it right.”
When senior Lamar Hodges began his studies at S.C. State in 2007, students were sleeping in cars and hotels because there wasn’t enough housing to accommodate them all.
“Enrollment was through the roof,” he said.
There are fewer students these days and more talk of leadership and financial problems. Enrollment dipped from 4,933 students in 2007 to 4,326 in the fall of 2011.
But Hodges, 22, plans to stick with his school and return to seek a master’s degree in family counseling.
S.C. State was his third choice in schools — his mom made him go here — but the Walterboro native quickly fell under the spell of Bulldog pride, pushed to excel by professors who are often alumni themselves.
“They tend to want us to strive to do our best so we can represent our school well.”
Hodges said the school’s leadership problems concern him deeply, and he feels students need reassurance that officials know which direction the school is heading in. But the school has a long history of overcoming adversity, he said.
Amber Sutton hopes students will have a voice in the selection of the new president, and that whoever is chosen will be more of a presence on campus.
The 19-year-old freshman from Greenville wanted to go to a historically black college where she could
surround herself with African-American culture and tradition. But talk of financial irregularities and infighting at the top gives her pause.
Sutton said she hopes the school will find a leader who will listen to students and provide a sense of direction. Her only encounters with former President George Cooper came at orientation and again when he announced his resignation.
“We never saw him,” she said.
Anderson Hall smiled as he watched his fellow business fraternity members crowd together for a group photo to end the semester.
Hall, a 19-year-old computer science major from Washington, D.C., didn’t know much about S.C. State before he arrived here. But he’s found his place here, a sense of belonging.
He would like to see the school do more to attract students from around the country and abroad to strengthen and diversify the fabric of the student body.
But Hall hates to hear people badmouth his school and focus on the negative.
“Everyone has issues, and everyone has problems,” he said. “But we’re still progressing. We’re still trying to grow as a family.”