Hello, I am Terra Strong, recently elected Miss Tennessee State University by a majority vote of the student body, then abruptly stripped of the position. I am now ready to tell my story about the Miss TSU situation. I have waited nearly a month to tell this story because I had hoped that by now I could quietly work with the university administration to resolve the issue and get an opportunity to get my position back, but that has not happened. So now I want to explain what happened.
I approached the professor of a course last spring because I was concerned about maintaining the “B” grade I had received at midterm, given my busy schedule. After going over some options, the professor suggested that I take an Incomplete or “I” and finish the course over the summer when I had time. Of course I am always concerned about my grades, so I agreed to accept the “I.” I never would have opted for an “I” had I believed that this would have the kind of future ramifications that it did. After all, I am a strong student, and I had a B in the class at midterm.
To be clear, I have always been aware of the qualifications of post-certification. My issue is how the policies were interpreted in my case. When the university performed its post certification process, I found out that that since I had taken the “I,” I would not receive the 3 credits the course in question carried, and since I only took 14 credits, during the spring term 2012, I had only earned 11 credits, one credit shy of the 12 required to maintain the position as Miss TSU.
At first, upon meeting with the president and members of her cabinet, I was led to believe that I would have a chance to rectify the situation. The professor called me and said she was told to work with her to get the work in by weeks end. The professor also sent me an email message that same day indicating what I would need to complete to receive a grade. Yet later that day, I was called to the president’s office, where I was informed that the decision was made that the policy would stand. At that time, I was offered what was described to me and my mother as a “solution” to the situation: since I had enough credits to graduate, but not with my intended degree in Commercial Music Business with a minor in Business Administration, I could change my major to Interdisciplinary Studies, take my diploma, and leave “with my head held high.” Naturally, I was offended by this “solution.” I felt like the administration was trying to find a way for me to leave TSU quietly, regardless of what my academic goals and career aspirations are.
All of this happened AFTER the university administration requested that I sing at the Spring graduation, and listed me in the program as Terra Strong, Miss Tennessee State University, 2012-2013. All of this happened AFTER the university directed me to enter the Ebony Magazine HBCU Campus Queens online competition, arranging for professionals to prepare photos and a video for the contest. All of this happened AFTER the university arranged for me to interview with Channel 5 to encourage viewers to visit the Ebony website.
I want to address the reasons the university have based their decision to disqualify me from the Miss TSU position. I want to be clear – I am not asking for special treatment, I am not blaming anyone for what happened, but based on the ambiguity of the policies related to this issue, and the lack of clarity in how they would be administered, and actions taken by the university, I believe I should be given the opportunity to resolve the situation and get my position back.
The university cites the following statement in the Student Handbook:
“All candidates (winners, runners-up) shall be certified by Student Affairs in conjunction with the adviser to SEC to hold office after final spring semester grades are posted (to determine whether or not students have met credit hours and a 2.5 or better cumulative grade point average requirement to hold the office.”
The university fails to recognize its own definition of an Incomplete as indicated in the University Catalog:
‘”Incomplete” is a temporary grade which must be removed from the undergraduate student‘s permanent record within one semester from the end of the term in which the ―I‖ grade was awarded.”
According to this statement, an incomplete is not a final grade. I submit that they have not received my final grade yet.
Also, the university cited the following from the SGA Constitution:
“The elected student should show evidence of having earned the equivalent of at least 12 credit hours (excludes remedial and developmental hours) during the semester in which the election is held and earned a 2.5 cumulative and 2.3 semester grade point average.”
I have met with my professor and have arranged to complete the work needed to receive a final grade. When that grade is posted, it will appear on my transcript as having been earned during the Spring 2012 semester. Again, I want to reiterate that this was a class I was doing reasonably well in, not a class I was struggling in. If I had understood the ramifications of taking an Incomplete, I never would have done it, believe me.
The university administration also refers to a meeting and follow-up email regarding the post-certification process. Neither the meeting, nor the email dealt with the specifics of the post-certification process. Had I known, even on April 30, 2012, that on May 11, 2012, my grades would have been certified, and I would have been disqualified as Miss TSU, I would have been less worried about getting an A in the class, and would have settled for doing whatever I could to get a passing grade to retain the position. Those of you who know me and support me know that I would have moved heaven and earth to keep my position, had I known.
I keep coming back to the question of why university officials would have allowed me to sing in the graduation and list me in the program as Miss Tennessee State University 2012-2013 if they had not officially certified me as Miss TSU. Why would they have allowed me to represent the university in the contest of a national publication? Why would they send me to the local television station as Miss TSU 2012-2013 to garner support for the Ebony contest? None of those things had to happen if I was not officially Miss TSU. My mother is a dean in a university. I know many people that work in other universities. They tell me that situations like this would not be resolved in a way that cause embarrassment to the student or to the university if another reasonable solution could be pursued.
The president told both my mother and me that the university has an image problem, and that is why they had to follow the policies in this case. I do not have the degrees or years of professional experience that the university officials making these decisions have. But I could have come up with something more appropriate than causing public humiliation to a student who had done nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical; making a decision with ambiguous policies that are easily challengeable on all kinds of levels; offering a high performing student a “solution” of changing her major to Interdisciplinary Studies” and leaving the university “with her head held high,” and leaving the university without the opportunity for its campus queen to be represented in Ebony Magazine in the institution’s centennial year. As a student who loves Tennessee State University, I think their actions against me represent a much worse image problem than they would have had if they had allowed me the opportunity to resolve the situation and retain my crown.
Since this whole thing happened, I have received an outpouring of support from fellow students, alumni, faculty, family and friends. Very interestingly, I have received support from alumni who were former SGA officers , Mr. TSUs, and Miss TSUs who found themselves in the same position I was in, disqualified at post-certification. The ones I heard from indicated they were given a chance to rectify their situations so that they could serve in their positions. While the times they were given varied in each situation, they were all given opportunities that I was not given. Some of those alumni have reached out, in vain, to the university leadership with descriptions of their stories, asking why I wasn’t afforded the same opportunities they were. I know this because I was copied on emails to the president from these alumni. Their pleas went unanswered. No response to successful alumni expressing their concerns! I truly appreciate the efforts of those alumni.
The fact that others before me have successfully challenged their post certification results says to me is that the university has established a precedent for the way they handle challenges to post-certification. I am not clear as to why they chose to disregard my request for further resolution rather acknowledge that the process needs clearer clarification through perhaps a revision of the policies.
I worked very hard to become Miss TSU. I strived to make my campaign about me, about my accomplishments, and about what I would do for the better of the university as Miss TSU. However, I want to give you some background about me that goes to the core of why I love Tennessee State University and why I was so elated to represent the university, and so heartbroken when the position was taken away from me.
I don’t brag about my heritage, but I have a long lineage of relatives that attended Tennessee State University. Most people don’t think about that because I am from Cincinnati. My grandfather, Dr. Bailey W. Turner, who died in 2011, was a proud graduate of TSU in 1956. He was born in Sadlersville, Tennessee and grew up in Clarksville. He moved to Cincinnati in 1958 and became very active in the civil rights movement in Cincinnati and throughout the state of Ohio. He also was very active with the local TSU alumni chapter in Cincinnati. In 1965, the National Alumni Chapter of TSU named him Alumnus of the Year. His mother and my great grandmother, Lady W. Turner, was also a graduate of TSU. Having been a teacher for many years without a bachelor’s degree, she was inspired by her son, my grandfather, to go back to school. They graduated from TSU in the same year. My great grandmother had two brothers, Emmanuel Weed and Malcolm Weed Sr., who graduated from TSU. My great, great uncle Emmanuel Weed is listed in a 1928 commencement program on the TSU website. Cousins Malcolm Weed Jr., Jane Weed, and Jessica Hale, all deceased now, were graduates of TSU. I have living relatives who are graduates of TSU, and at least one cousin currently attending TSU. I am related to so many people in Tennessee that I do not know the extent of my family connections to TSU.
This situation cuts to the core of my being. Not to brag, but the reality is, I graduated from Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts, with honors. I could have chosen any number of colleges to attend. Or, like many of my high school classmates, I could have gone right into the entertainment industry. But I was drawn to TSU through my family heritage. I believed that this would be a safe, fair environment for me to spend my formative years as a young adult. Never did I think that I would come into an environment where I would work hard and excel for four years, only to be treated like I had done something illegal or immoral. Never would I have thought that I would be put in a position where an administration would outspokenly talk about “putting students first” and then interpret questionable policies against me, a student.
For those of you who supported me in my efforts to become Miss TSU, I am sorry that all of this has happened. I wanted you, and everyone else for that matter, to know the truth, and to understand that I did not intentionally or irresponsibly lose the Miss TSU title. Please feel free to contact the university administration by phone or email, or however else you deem appropriate and express your concerns about what has happened. Despite what has happened, I still want to be Miss TSU. For the university administration, who suggested that I change my major to Interdisciplinary Studies and immediately leave the university, please know that I have no intention of doing so. I have met with my professor and intend to finish the course as soon as possible. I intend to stay at Tennessee State University as long as it takes to complete the degrees of my choosing, regardless of whether I am Miss TSU or not. I will “hold my head high” regardless!