Stomping the Yard

How to Get Away with Cheating

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During last Thursday’s record setting debut for an ABC primetime drama, 14 million viewers were introduced to Annalise Keating, a tough as nails law professor played by award-winning actress Viola Davis, in Shonda Rhimes’ latest addition to Shondaland, How to Get Away with Murder.

In the opening minutes of the pilot episode, Keating (Davis) asks a Black, male student for the answer to a question from a previously given assignment. As the student struggled to find the correct answer, one of his classmates volunteered it. Keating’s response was a sharp rebuke. “Never take a learning opportunity away from another student, no matter how smart you need everyone to think you are.”


Photo courtesy of ABC

Photo courtesy of ABC

While this scene prepared the audience for the type of no-nonsense character Davis would portray throughout the series, it also captured a very real and all too familiar scene happening in colleges all across America. Even when their academic potential is comparable to their White peers, African-American students still lag consistently behind in the areas of leadership, internships, and graduation rates.

Lack of Preparation

In How to Get Away with Murder, the male student cited a lack of preparation for his inability to find the correct answer to Keating’s question.  He confessed that he was admitted late into the school and subsequently registered late for the class. Late registration has proven to be a strong predictor of failure for college students. Many colleges have even abolished late registration in order to strengthen retention rates for African-American students. Despite these efforts, Black students still have the highest college dropout rates, nationwide. Even at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities), the average graduation rate is just over 40 percent.  Showing up late to class, without the textbook, or materials necessary for successful engagement can leave a negative first impression with the professor, and reinforce negative stereotypes about black students being “lazy” or “intellectually inferior.”  These impressions can be lasting and cause a student to be overlooked throughout the semester.

Limited Network

In 2003, Spelman College president Beverly Daniel Tatum, authored a book called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting together in the Cafeteria? She cited that Black students will gravitate toward racial groups that they feel they can most readily identify with. Hence, many Black college students will join Black Greek lettered organizations or Black professional groups such as NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) or NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists).

However, these same students are less likely to join groups that are predominantly White or more culturally diverse, even if it is related to their major or area of interest. Building relationships, both personal and professional, within your own cultural group is valuable; but when interactions are limited to just that, it is a setup for missed opportunity. Learning how to interact with and negotiate the politics of diverse cultural settings is a marketable asset and desirable skill in the workplace.

Far too many students undervalue the importance of making favorable impressions, being prepared, and surrounding themselves with people who will push and challenge them to move beyond their comfort zones.  Annalise Keating offered her most promising students the opportunity to work for her, gaining real world experience in the court of law, rather than just learning about it in books. These types of openings don’t come by happenstance. When students are reluctant or fearful to go above and beyond the call of duty, they cheat themselves out of a more promising future.

About Dr. Shante Bishop


Getting TO college is one thing; Getting THROUGH college is quite another. That’s why Dr. Shante’ Bishop offers strategic advice on being successful both in and out of the classroom. From catalogs to cap and gown, Professor Bishop shares what it takes to ‘Stomp the Yard” with confidence and clarity! You can follow Dr. Bishop on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.