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: The Adventures of A Million-Dollar Scholar
Author: Lauren R.D. Fox
Author’s Note: This is a narrative of DarLinda Wright during the Spring 2019 semester of her freshman year at Dillard University. The Memphis native has dreams of becoming a Oscar-Award winning screenwriter and living in Washington, D.C. (or New York City, if the Big Apple is lucky). As an English major, Film minor, DarLinda is meticulously observant of life as though it is a chess game. Unlike most teenagers her age, she carefully calculates how much energy and information she will invest in a person. Though some may say she is a pessimist, waiting for the other shoe to drop, DarLinda has goals that others may not understand, so it is best she does herself (and those blind to her visions) a favor and not become entangled in petty drama that never tickets access anywhere. Here is her story.
I met DarLinda Wright, 19, in February 2019 in the middle of Mardi Gras season. She was rather shy despite her niche for wit. In our meeting, DarLinda shared she was nervous about being featured by the University. When I asked her “why,” she replied that she is not used to the attention other students may receive for their accolades or outgoing personalities. I told her if she wanted to go into the entertainment business (even if it is a behind the scenes position) she would have to get acclimated to building a brand that requires cutting slices of yourself for public consumption. I further shared that, I too, felt the same way she did until I worked for a media company that wanted me and my co-workers to write 6-8 articles a day and appear on camera, dissecting the latest pop culture news. Her eyes widened to my response to which I said, “Yeah girl, I know. This will be light work.”
In our first meeting, I learned that DarLinda earned a 3.7 grade point average her first semester of college. I was floored because normally it is the hardest semester to prove academic excellence since most students are trying to piece together their identity, make friends on campus or adjust to the surrounding metropolitan area. Students are also fighting homesickness. Interestingly enough, DarLinda told me that she had all of those challenges. So when I asked her how was she able to not become enveloped in the #FreshmenScaries she responded with: “Routines. I need them; and I like to stay on campus but will occasionally go out to eat or explore different New Orleans’ neighborhoods.” “Wow,” I replied. “You sound like my boyfriend who took his time to adjust to New Orleans when he moved down.” “You have to! It’s important to take your time with things and not make mistakes,” DarLinda giggled as I rolled my eyes. “I don’t know how to do that. Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through you!” I exclaimed sheepishly, surprised that a 19-year-old understood how to curate an operandi for excellence better than me or most of my thirty-something friends.
Our conversation continued with DarLinda revealing that if she had to vote for Cardi B. and Nicki Minaj in different categories, the Bronx rapper would take home the Fashion award, whereas the Queens MC would get awarded for having better bars. I gave DarLinda the “C’mon son” face most New Yorkers give when they don’t agree with an answer, namely Nicki having better lyrics than Cardi. DarLinda firmly responded in her Memphis drawl, “But I mean, Nicki writes her own lyrics.” “Girl, I guess...I’m just tired of her haterlike tendencies.” We continued to debate the issue until we somehow landed on the fact that we love the animated version of The Lion King and decided we liked each other’s taste in entertainment again.
“You don’t really know how attached you are until you move away, until you’ve experienced what it means to be dislodged, a cork floating on the ocean of another place.” - Michelle Obama
Homesickness: An Intermission
After our first meeting, communication with DarLinda became staccato as midterms, Spring Break and Mardi Gras festivities collaborated to make DarLinda less available. When she wasn’t studying, DarLinda weaved in and out of homesickness. She was still learning how college friendships work and the annoyance of not having a solid crew of friends began to weigh on her, especially during Carnival season.
Despite its rambunctious reputation, Mardi Gras is family friendly. If you travel throughout different New Orleans neighborhoods, you will notice the Carnival commemorations are a homecoming for many. Family members parade around each other, passing libations and plates of New Orleans delicacies. So, it was understandable why DarLinda wanted to feel like she belonged, especially when the city was coming alive with each parade.
CNBC reports, 1 out of 10 students who live at residential universities find it hard to combat homesickness. “Even among those students who think they’re not going to feel homesick, it still comes up fairly often and fairly quickly,” Liz Sutton, the senior associate director of first-year academic initiatives at Wharton Business School told the news outlet.College student Emma Freer explained that homesickness is not about wanting to go home but feeling like you need to depend on the relationships you have there. In her piece for Your Teen Mag, Emma wrote: “Now that I am away, I’m surprised by what I miss about home. It’s not so much the actual place, but rather the interactions I had grown to depend on. I’d talked things through with my mom, and I miss that outlet at the end of the day. I miss having my little sister come with me places when I don’t want to go alone. I miss having my dad checking in to make sure everything is okay.”
But for DarLinda, her mother is not one phone call away for her frivolous worries to be soothed. Her mother suddenly passed away when she was 15-years-old. The two were extremely close and although she isn’t physically present, DarLinda still treasures her mother. She has created a holiness around her mother’s legacy and if DarLinda were Catholic, (I believe) she would petition Sainthood for her mother. That’s how deep their bond and love runs.
In the weeks leading up to my home visit with DarLinda, she began to reveal how much she yearned for Memphis and her mother during this stage of her life. I told her it’s normal to want to cocoon herself a silo. “When I moved to New Orleans I wanted to perfect my living experience as fast as possible,”I told her. “But you can become blind to your growth during this or any major transition.” “Thankfully, I can lean on my mentor (Chancellor) Dr. R. Lemoyne Robinson,” DarLinda responded nodding. Dr. Robinson fans DarLinda’s flames when she’s feeling murky about the new path she’s on.
“DarLinda’s growth is defined by her ability to independently shine while continually supporting others. While in high school, DarLinda was determined to carry her mother’s dreams as her own legacy by ensuring that she arrived to school prepared daily and ready in the spirit of reciprocity as a scholar,” Dr. Robinson, the Founder/Chancellor of Memphis’ City University Schools noted in a brief interview.
“She not only learned and continually advanced, but she also ensured that her classmates were actively engaged in educationally enriching opportunities that supported their growth as well. That reciprocal approach to life and learning became her mark of leadership—although quiet and subtle, the significance was witnessed by those she tutored and mentored as well as those that admired her from a distance.” He went on to claim that as a college student, DarLinda still utilizes these skills by sharing positive advice to her mentees and college peers.
When I asked him how her academic success was paramount to the City of Memphis, Dr. Robinson disclosed that DarLinda overcame the “grit and grind” pattern most students succumb to when raised in urban demographics. “Despite the hardness that is present in the daily life of the City [Memphis], there are abundant opportunities for success over struggle. Unfortunately, many of those stories go unnoticed or often unrealized,” he shared. “DarLinda’s success is paramount to Memphis, because her struggle is significant to a city filled with youth and young adults in need of attainable goals or at least the opportunity to know that success is possible regardless of circumstances.”
“DarLinda, could have easily succumbed to her circumstances -broken home and educational system; neglected neighborhood; and the sudden tragic loss of her mother. Despite such roadblocks, she persevered and remained focused on her goals,” he concluded.
“In search of my mother's garden, I found my own.”- Alice Walker
On the morning of our five-hour trip to Memphis, it seemed like God was dumping buckets of water on New Orleans. Despite the soggy weather, DarLinda was in good spirits, gushing about her life in Memphis. She disclosed that she got accepted to over 60 colleges and universities. DarLinda also received over $1 million in scholarship aid. DarLinda got accepted into her top choice, Howard University, but opted to enroll at Dillard because of the amount of financial aid she received. “I love D.C.” she said, elongating on the vowels in the word “love.” We chatted over her favorite parts of the Middle Atlantic city and how she graduated high school with a semester worth of credits, allowing her to graduate early if she would like to.
As we traveled through Mississippi from Louisiana with the occasional Confederate flag flapping its past (and present) in our faces, DarLinda walked me through the weekend schedule. I was going to meet her father, stepmother and six-year-old sister Darria-then I would meet her best friend Taylor. I never visited Memphis before so I was excited to learn how Memphians live in the city named after the Ancient Egyptian capital.
When we reached the Home of Blues, I understood why A-list musicians would spend months recording record-breaking albums there. It is free of flashy distractions and one could pull from the city’s history if their inspiration was running on “E.”
Memphis is home for Tennessee's largest Black population and Drake’s father, Dennis Graham. On Sundays, you can visit First Baptist Beale Street, which serves the oldest African-American congregation in the city and afterward get a rib plate at A&R Restaurant where several locals spotted in a Walgreens said it's a must-try. The city also served as a safe haven for Blacks during and after the Civil War and played a prominent role in the Civil Right Movement. Unfortunately, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated there and the city is constantly embroiled in systematic racism and classism. However, Memphis’ rich heritage cannot rival American cities that appear sexier on paper. In fact with property values at an all-time low, Generation Z should keep their eye on the Memphis housing market where the average property value in Downtown Memphis is a mere $20,000.
When I asked DarLinda’s father, Darral Wright what it was like to raise her in the city, he said she’s had a sound upbringing with her grandmothers instilling the importance of education in her at a young age. He continued to share that DarLinda had dreams of going to college in far-away cities but Dillard and New Orleans were the best compromise in terms of distance and value of education. “When I went to the campus and read over the brochures, I said ‘This is fine, this is fine,’ because I didn’t want her to go to Norfolk State because of the Navy base,” Mr. Wright said, shaking his head. “See what I mean,” DarLinda piped up, reminding me about the conversation we had in the car. Her father and uncle have a theory that men in the Navy target college women for sexual hookups, short-term marriages and overall distractions.
As we continued our conversation over the fishcakes, rice, donuts and eggs Mr.Wright prepared, DarLinda’s sister Darria’s energy was buoyant as she told me what a “great big sister” DarLinda is to her. It was telling that the six-year-old was excited to have DarLinda home; so when I asked Mr. Wright what was it like to raise two daughters who are 14 years apart in a blended family and one‘s mother passed away. “It was important to me to keep things as normal as possible. So even though I wanted DarLinda to move in with us, she preferred to remain with her [maternal] grandmother. That way she was also able to stay in the same school district,” he said. That simple decision was impactful despite the tragic circumstances. DarLinda became the 2018 Valedictorian of City University Schools.
BFF: Serena and Blair
After we finished brunch at her father’s house, DarLinda and I traveled to the Midtown section of Memphis. It’s an up and coming area that is family-friendly with an edge; ideal for millennial parents who still want to feel hip despite toddlers pulling at their clothes. We met DarLinda’s best friend Taylor Price who was ecstatic to see her even though they FaceTime regularly. “I would describe our friendship as more of a sisterhood because essentially that’s what she is to me: a sister,” Taylor told me over salsa and chips. “We can talk about anything random, serious or funny- doesn’t matter. And we do so seamlessly. We’re each other’s biggest supporters and sometimes when warranted, critic, but no matter what it’s all out of love.”
The two became close in junior high school and if you hang around them long enough, you would think they were Serena and Blair from Gossip Girl minus the toxic issues that plagued the fictional characters. DarLinda and Taylor have an unexplainable bond that most blood sisters don’t have. In a world where childhood friendships are fickle because of precarious behavior, DarLinda and Taylor uplift each other when college life becomes draining and when annoying boys need to be avoided at the mall.
A bond like this is one of the reasons why DarLinda thrives academically at Dillard. The support of Taylor, another creative Black woman who is enrolled in college allows DarLinda to remain focus on her collegiate priorities. This healthy competition helps DarLinda pivot against temperamental co-campus friendships that often made her feel sidetracked.
My mother taught me the importance not just of being seen but of seeing myself. - Beyoncé
Breaking The Internet: The Race, Sexuality and Gender Edition
As our trip came to a close, I understood DarLinda’s interest in becoming a maven for film production and content. With a Dillard education in her toolkit, DarLinda’s drive and keen need to share the stories of women who are overlooked, undervalued and of color would break the internet and make the repetitive Black female archetypes in film obsolete. In a social media age where some female teens can only affirm they are a “grown a-- woman,” by recording and posting it, DarLinda wants to scribe their insecurities, angst and challenges into books and television series because it’s authentic and not polished. She believes her scripts and literature would inform young girls that they don’t have to measure themselves against a beauty standard or for the male gaze, especially during the #MeTooMovement.
“[For example] expressing our sexuality as women isn’t easy; especially for Black women. Growing up, I didn’t realize that Black women are the most sexualized people on the planet. With that being said, no matter what we choose to do sexually, we will always be judged,” she said, exasperatedly, during our last interview.
“Little tactics do not always guarantee your safety. We need to be educated more on what sexual assault is and instill the fact that no means no, period,” -DarLinda said, with her hand slicing the air under her chin.
Real radicalism implores us to tell the whole ugly truth, even when it is inconvenient. To own the hurt and the pain. To think about it systemically and collectively, but never to diminish the import of the trauma.― Dr. Brittney Cooper, Ph.D
Click Below To View DarLinda's Photo Story