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UVI President Seeks Television Reform in Wake of 'College Hill'

April 20, 2007 — UVI President LaVerne E. Ragster has partnered with a group of education leaders to address the negative portrayal of women and people of color by the television industry.
After the school's segments on the Black Entertainment Television (BET) show "College Hill 4," the group has proposed a meeting with Viacom Entertainment executives to discuss the media conglomerate’s role in reducing misogynistic and racist images on its networks.
In a long and wide-ranging interview, Ragster said she is still awaiting a response from the head of BET, but is hopeful that a meeting can be arranged soon.
“There needs to be some sort of balanced approach in their programming, to include positives along with the negative," Ragster said. "Right now, they seem to be only interested in the bottom line.”
Ragster seeks a dialogue with Viacom executives about “College Hill 4,” which has stirred negative reactions within segments of the V.I. community. Her request for a meeting comes at a time when television’s degrading images of women and its negative portrayal of blacks by the entertainment industry is at the forefront of public discourse.
In her efforts to impact broadcasting, Ragster is teaming with two other presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBC) featured on previous seasons of BET’s “College Hill”: JoAnn Haysbert of Langston University and Eddie N. Moore Jr. of Virginia State University. They plan to present educators’ concerns to industry executives about the impact of negative images on their students.
Ragster opined that it was difficult “to get all the HBC presidents on the same page” as they all have different agendas and issues. In a certain respect, because we are so distant, we have always been on the outside looking in.”
Recent inflammatory comments by radio personality Don Imus could increase the pressure on BET, Ragster said.
“It could provide leverage, as the whole nation is talking about it," she said. "We want concrete and positive changes and this is a real opportunity.”
“College Hill 4” draws record numbers of viewers, and its impact on UVI’s enrollment and notoriety has yet to be assessed. Inquiries have risen, but it would take two years to fully evaluate the show’s effect, Ragster said.
The application process is almost complete for the 2007-2008 academic year and, according to BET, the largest interest for the show is in the 10th and 11th grades. Those students will not fully enter the enrollment process until the 2009-2010 academic year.
Ragster remains optimistic that the show will eventually benefit the university and the region in general. She stressed the importance of continued support for the current students and the cultivation of alumni giving. No matter how people feel about the show, positive or negative, alumuni can demonstrate their pride and support for UVI by contributing, Ragster said.
Currently, UVI has surprisingly low alumni giving. Addressing this issue is one of Ragster’s goals for the two years left in her tenure.
“Really, we have a lot of challenges and opportunities before us,” she said. “'College Hill' is a relatively small one. We are starting the accreditation process and have other more important things to address, and I plan on moving ahead and addressing each and every one of them.”
BET has not recognized many aspects of Caribbean culture and V.I. culture in particular, Ragster said. “They never seem to get by the beauty and exotic nature of the islands and explore the rich culture and history,” she said.
Viacom Entertainment is the parent company of BET, whose top-rated “College Hill 4” is set at UVI this season. In addition to BET, Viacom properties also include Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, MTV, Tempo, Comedy Central, VH1 and Spike, among others.
“The extraordinary influence of Viacom’s properties on our young people places a special responsibility on the company,” Ragster said. “As educators, we believe we can partner with Viacom to provide a more balanced view of the concerns and lives of our young people. We seek not censorship but a greater exposure of the truth of our students’ lives — the abundant positive, as well as the negative.”
Now in its fourth season, “College Hill” previously worked with VSU, Langston and Southern University. The current season has generated the best ratings of the BET series to date.
"We at the University of the Virgin Islands feel very strongly that there is a need for BET to present a more comprehensive portrayal of historically black colleges and universities,” Ragster said.
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