Lincoln University Alumni Janelle Harris (Clutch Magazine) speaks on how A Different World was her insight into attending an HBCU.
Twenty-five years—that’s how long it’s been since the first episode of A Different World aired on NBC. The Internet’s been standardized, the skyscraper bang has been beaten into obscurity and stars have blazed across the fickle stage of celebrity and fizzled, remembered only through the randomness of reality shows and VH1’s I Love the 90s. But after 25 years, A Different World is still relevant, not only because TV One so graciously continues to breathe life into its syndicated reruns, but because it was the only show to paint a realistic picture, for an entire generation of kids, of what life is like on a black campus. Many of them were the first in their families to even have a shot at going to college and some went on to serve their four years in the hallowed halls of higher education. I was one of them.
A Different World was my window into post-secondary school autonomy and the wholeness of college life. I remember racing to get my homework done before 8 every Thursday so I could be an honorary Huxtable first and then, immediately thereafter, watch the episodic antics of Dwayne and Whitley, Kim and Jaleesa, Ron and Freddie. As a little kid struggling with the complexities of little hand/big hand time and decimal placement, campus life seemed so foreign and grown-up. The spontaneous step shows that broke out in front of The Pit, the deep, revealing classroom discussions about gender roles, AIDS and casual sex, the passionate, on-campus sociopolitical protests, the playful banter between the roommates and girls in the dorm, the occasional rap star cameo, and the guys, guys, guys—it all ruined me for anything else.
I applied to NYU just to say I got in and Temple because it was local, but I’m not even so sure I ever entertained much of anything but a black school. For six seasons, Hillman life had shaped my expectations and visions of the college experience. By the time my predominantly white high school years thankfully, finally, heaved their last few breaths, I was all set to enroll at Lincoln University, the first HBCU in the country and not completely unlike that fictional—but very realistic—Huxtable alma mater.