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Degrees of Separation

Family Of Murdered Morgan State Student Outraged that School Refuses to Honor their Son’s Achievements at Graduation

Jeff Fusco
WAITING FOR GRADUATION: Tawana Hardy (left), mother of slain Morgan State University student Lorenzo Hardy, and Tamika Hardy, his sister, are frustrated that the school won’t grant them Lorenzo’s degree.

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 3/23/2005

Last May, the family of slain Morgan State University student Lorenzo Hardy III had to face a painful truth. Not only had Hardy been killed at an off-campus party in October 2003, a mere two months away from completing his requirements for graduation, but he would never receive any recognition for the years he put in as a student at the college. The president of Morgan State, an institution that awards honorary degrees to individuals who never attended the school at all, told the family that the school would not issue a degree for Hardy even though he’d come so close to graduating.

“My brother’s whole reason for being in Baltimore was to obtain a degree from MSU,” laments Hardy’s 28-year-old sister, Tamika Hardy. “And not being able to get his degree makes it feel like his experience was in vain.”

Lorenzo Hardy, then 23, was a senior on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2003, when he was gunned down by fellow Morgan State student Christopher Bacote at a party at Timonium Fairlanes, a bowling alley in Baltimore County. Hardy, who was to begin his midterm exams the next Monday, would have finished his academic studies in December and walked with the graduating class the following May.

“My brother would have been the first in the Hardy family to graduate from a four-year institution,” Tamika Hardy says. “He was working on completing his final 16 credits.”

Tamika Hardy and her mother, Tawana Hardy, met with Morgan State President Earl Richardson in April 2004. They were told the university does not award posthumous degrees unless the deceased student has completed all the requirements for graduation. The school maintains that since Hardy was still working on his last 16 credits he had not met those requirements. But Hardy’s family says this information contradicts what they were told the month that Lorenzo was killed.

“We spoke with Mr. [A. Recardo] Perry, vice president of student affairs, and he told us not to worry,” Tamika Hardy says. “Lorenzo would get his degree and he would be honored at graduation.”

But it wasn’t until the Hardys were making plans to attend the graduation ceremony that they found out that the degree would not be conferred.

“Mr. Perry got in touch with the dean and found out that my brother didn’t have the necessary credits,” Tamika Hardy says. “It really added insult to injury that we were promised that we would get the degree and we didn’t.”

Richardson was not available for comment for this story. But Perry, who has served as vice president of student affairs for 10 years, says, “I have no recollection of extending such an [offer].”

Perry says that Morgan State did award a posthumous degree to Rashed Tolliver, a student who was murdered just weeks before graduation in April 2003. Tolliver, who had just completed all of his degree requirements, laid out his cap and gown on his bed in his dorm room, and went to Club Dior (formerly Baltimore Live) to celebrate his pending graduation the night he was killed.

Hardy’s family says they are aggravated by Richardson’s lack of compassion.

“When we met with President Richardson in April of 2004, he told us that he couldn’t even give us an honorary degree for Lorenzo,” Tamika Hardy says. “But why not? People get honorary degrees all the time who don’t even go this school.”

Perry says honorary degrees are “conferred upon individuals who show exceptional accomplishments or have achieved renown” in their chosen fields, or who are commencement speakers. Last year Morgan State awarded three honorary doctorate degrees, one to first female AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie and the other two to Baltimore philanthropists Harlow Fullwood Jr. and Calvin Tyler.

“Dr. Richardson was as cold and as callous as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Tawana Hardy says. “He simply said ‘no,’ but there was no compassion in him.”

“When we mentioned that Rashed Tolliver had received his degree, Richardson said, ‘Who?’” Tawana Hardy says, noting that Tolliver’s murder had been broadcast all over local media outlets, while her son’s murder was less sensational.

Lorenzo Hardy moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia to attend Morgan State in 1998. He was majoring in business management, and had hoped to start a mobile barbering business with his sister Tamika (who runs a mobile nail salon service in New York) upon returning to Philadelphia after graduation, Tamika Hardy says.

While at Morgan, Hardy was known to get into fights—especially in situations where he felt like he could protect or somehow help one of his friends.

Hardy’s best friend, 23-year-old Douglass Sims, says Lorenzo was known as a “protector” who had been prone to getting in fights early in his college career. But Sims, who was with Hardy on the night he was killed, says that at the end of his life Hardy was focused on one thing—graduating. So that night he tried to avoid a fight inside of Timonium Fairlanes with Christopher Bacote, the son of Kenneth Bacote, who is a counselor at Morgan State. Still, Hardy was gunned down outside the bowling alley in an adjacent parking lot, according to Baltimore County Police. Christopher Bacote pled guilty to the first-degree murder of Lorenzo Hardy in November 2004.

Lorenzo Hardy is one of at least five Morgan State students killed over the past 10 years. In fact, Hardy witnessed the murder of Tolliver in April 2003, as Hardy was a bouncer at Club Dior, where the killing happened. (Former Morgan State student Damon Anthony Williams was tried for Tolliver’s murder and acquitted in May 2004.)

Two Morgan students were murdered in 1998, according to Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks safety on college campuses. And a Sun article reported a murder of a student on the campus outside the Hurt Gymnasium in 1994.

Tamika Hardy thinks Morgan State University does not do enough to keep its students safe, promote a culture of nonviolence among its students, or make parents aware of safety issues on and around the Northeast Baltimore campus. Hardy’s concerns are not baseless: There were 271 murders committed in Baltimore City in 2003, the year Lorenzo Hardy was killed, and 278 in 2004. Tamika Hardy, who says she and her family had no idea what a violent place Baltimore could be, suspects that the school does not want to give Lorenzo a posthumous degree because it is afraid to set a precedent it will have to follow for the families of slain students yet to come.

“We didn’t realize that Baltimore was such a dangerous city,” she says. “Had we known, we never would have left my brother there.”

Morgan State spokesman Clinton R. Coleman says the school takes student safety seriously.

“Morgan State University tries to take advantage of every opportunity it knows of to make students aware of their personal-safety issues . . . and try to encourage them to be aware of their environment both on campus and off campus,” he says. For example, Coleman says, the school has safety and anti-violence seminars for students, which are sponsored by the student affairs office, police agencies, and other law-enforcement professionals.

Students at Morgan State are not the only ones to fall victim to violence in Baltimore recently. Johns Hopkins University lost two students to murder in the last two years. Linda Trinh, a senior biomedical engineering major, was killed at her apartment near the Homewood campus in January. Hopkins junior Chris Elser was killed at an off-campus house in the spring of 2004.

Those murders have resulted in heightened security efforts around the Homewood campus. Lorenzo Hardy’s friend Douglass Sims says that murders of Morgan State students have not received the same kind of attention from the school’s administrators.

“Morgan State really hasn’t acknowledged the fact that these students have died,” Sims says. “They just wiped their brows off thinking, At least these murders didn’t happen on campus.”

However, Sims points out, off-campus violence against Morgan State students cannot be disassociated with the school.

“Most of the students attending these off-campus parties were Morgan students,” he says. “And since I’ve been here, they only had one on-campus party in 2000. Banning parties on campus or banning promoters who had parties with problems is their approach to heightened security.”

Coleman says the school does not have “an official policy that bans dances on campus. They happen occasionally and are sponsored by the student government association.” He says the last on-campus dance took place on Valentine’s Day.

Hopkins student Trinh would have graduated in May 2005. She had more than completed her requirements for graduation at the time of her death, and her family will be awarded her degree at graduation this May, according to Hopkins spokesman Dennis O’Shea. Chris Elser, who had not completed his requirements for graduation, did not receive his degree. Like Morgan State, Johns Hopkins does not typically award posthumous degrees to students who have not finished their graduation requirements. But Elser will receive recognition from the school for his achievements.

“To honor [Elser’s] accomplishments and the fact that he, like Linda, was an important part of the class of 2005, the university does intend to award his family a certificate marking his academic achievements,” O’Shea says.

The Hardy family did not receive a similar offer from Morgan for their lost son.

“Had Dr. Richardson said, ‘Unfortunately we cannot give your son his degree because of A, B, and C, but we can do this,’ that would have been fine,” Tawana Hardy says. “I think it’s wonderful that [Elser’s] school thought enough to give his family something that said, ‘We’re sorry your son was killed before he could complete his requirements, and this is what we want to give you.’”

When asked why Morgan did not offer the Hardy family a similar honor, Perry was at a loss. “They were fairly insistent that they wanted a degree,” he says. “I would like to think that the university would consider some acknowledgment of [Lorenzo’s achievement]. He was a successful matriculant.”

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