Reflection on The Movie "Higher Learning"

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While watching the movie “Higher Learning”, I could not help but reflect on what is currently happening around me right now. Though the movie was released in 1995, the sociological issues that were shown in the film are still currently happening in the United States and to a certain extent in my university campus. The storyline that centered on the racial tensions happening between the white and African-American students on the campus of Columbus University (CU) felt so realistic. I still see, hear, read about and experience some of the real life issues presented in the film like racism, social equality, date rape, the importance of a college education, students’ need for financial aid, and even questions related to sexuality.

I tried to reflect on whether or not I had my own personal preconceived ideas and biases in society that like the movie suggested in the end, I need to ‘unlearn’. If I do, what are these and how can I ‘unlearn’ them. One lesson I am sure I learned, is the importance of open communication, and the need for dialogues to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

As I described the kind of university culture Columbus University showed in the movie, I realized my description is the often preconceived stereotype and norm in a number of universities in America, especially from a foreign student’s point of view. While comparing the culture of Columbus University, a fictitious university, to that of Virginia Union University, where I study, there were similarities and differences that made me feel good that I have not encounter the same negative issues presented in the movie when I first joined my university.

In the movie, the story focused on the experiences of three college freshmen: Kristen (Kristy Swanson), who became a date rape victim and later struggled to define both her sexuality and identity; Remy (Michael Rapaport), who because of his history of being abused, had difficulty in fitting in and got involved with a group of white supremacists skinheads; and an African-American, Malik (Omar Epps), a track star with an athletic scholarship. Among these characters in the movie, it is Malik and his attitude towards his academics and the stigma related to an athletic scholar’s academic performance that I write about.

I also address some of the safety issues in the movie, how I feel about them and what I believe are still existing threats in universities as evidenced by current events. I further identify the racism issues and prejudices presented in the movie and address how these racism issues compare to what I see are currently happening in the United States.

It is sad to note that many of the issues in “Higher Learning” have remained unresolved even after 23 years. However, I believe as a member of society I need to do my share to make a positive change and it all starts from me believing in myself and what I can do to make a difference.

Culture of Columbus University

Columbus University (CU) in the movie, presented a typical campus in America that enjoys a culture of openness, diversity, and acceptance. Its system of education is mixed-sex or mixed-gender education, also called co-education (co-ed), where male and female students are educated together. The university allowed academic freedom and encouraged the students to search for the answers to humanity’s most complex questions. As a fictional university, the name and statue of Christopher Columbus was used to suggest a racist atmosphere. Using that and other symbolisms, the movie captured the different attitudes of white and black students on campus. In the movie, very little of what college students took away from the experience was found in textbooks or classrooms. The pursuit of higher education was a crash course in life lessons. (Julian, 2015).

Comparing Columbus University to Virginia Union University

Like Virginia Union University (VUU), Columbus University(CU) similarly represented the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) that were founded on the belief that everyone, regardless of sex, class, ethnicity or race are entitled to have access to higher education. (College Choice, 2018). Whites, Blacks, Asians and even Latinos are free to have gatherings on campus. Students and faculty are allowed to use the university as a platform for tolerance and serve as a forum for students who advocate racial and religious dialogue and harmony. The campus community is encouraged to engage in open discussions related to social, political, religious, and racial issues. (Virginia Union University)

As a historically black university, Virginia Union University embraces the unique contributions of immigrants from Africa and celebrates the value of cultural and intellectual diversity. One guiding principle of my university's educational program is a strong focus on moral values and ethics. The students are also encouraged to engage in activities that promote self-actualization (Virginia Union University).

I believe culture is part of who we are. In the movie, the culture of Columbus University showed that the different races were divided, which made it difficult for new students and freshmen to socialize and learn without fear. Here at Virginia Union, I did not have an issue adjusting to my new environment. I easily blended in and felt welcome to be part of the community. There is less diversity and better harmony.

The movie also showed race motivated crimes where, even the campus police assumed most of the disturbances on campus were initiated by the black students. Here at my HBCU, students are made to feel comfortable and secure we would not be discriminated. I am made to feel confident to be who I am.

Malik’s Attitude towards Academics

In the movie, Malik is an African-American student with a track scholarship. He represents the thinking of some athletic scholars that even if their academics are not their strong points, they believe that their athletic abilities can earn them credits to graduate from college. Malik believed since he was good at track, running is the only thing the university expects and wants from him. It was his girlfriend, Deja (Tyra Banks), who influenced him to think differently. Since he has proven he is capable of thinking critically and sensibly, his Political Science Professor Maurice Phipps (Laurence Fishburne), also challenged him to always do his best in his studies.

Safety Issues

I did not feel comfortable and secure with the kind of safety measures implemented by the Columbus University police. There were a number of scenes that depicted the campus police racial profiling where immediately, Malik, Fudge and Dreads were first treated as the offenders, before they were treated as human beings and students.

I believe despite the changes in safety measures that are presently being implemented in campuses, the scenes shown in the movie still do happen in some universities across the country. Evidence are found in the detailed news reports on unarmed African-Americans being killed during encounters with the police, sexual assaults, acts of violence against women, gang rapes in frat houses, plus the series of mass shootings that have taken place in school institutions across America in the past several years. The scenes in the movie and the stories in real life may not be the same, but how and why they happened are very close to the issues of safety on campus.

Racism Issues

Racial prejudice was the main issue in the movie together with other racism issues like sexual, and social prejudice. Racial prejudice was clearly demonstrated by figures of authority in one of the last scenes. Remy, who just murdered three students and was holding a gun was automatically assumed by the campus police to be innocent because he is white, while Malik, who was black, was treated like the criminal. In another situation, Remy pulled a gun on his Jewish roommate David and Malik. When David defended Malik, the police did not listen to him, because he belongs to the Jewish minority, and instead they continued to restrain Malik, who is part of the black minority. I see these scenes as a reflection of how black people and other minorities are discriminated by people in positions of authority, including the police. For several years now there have been news reports of similar incidents where police officers are even seen on video recordings hitting black men they have accused of being dangerous and guilty of a crime even without evidence.

At the start of the movie, peer prejudice was immediately demonstrated when Kristen, even if she was unsure of her own identity, showed signs of racial discrimination towards Malik in the elevator. Remy, who was a misfit and outcast was shown being ignored by other students, and then there is Malik, who as an African-American was as confused about his own identity and aspirations like the others. Like most university students, each of these characters shared some of the same prejudices we may have toward our peers and other people. But, like the characters in the story, what we may be overlooking is the fact that each of our peers may value the same things about life as we have, and yet we discriminate against each other.

Remy’s low self-esteem represented how a vulnerable person in need of acceptance can believe in an anti-social philosophy filled with violence.  Since Scott’s white supremacy group made Remy feel accepted for as long as he followed what they say, this offered him a very high self-esteem. This high self-esteem gives people like Remy a feeling of superiority that in turn can cause discrimination. I believe the students who have done mass shootings in the different schools around the country fall under this kind of prejudice because of their history of being bullied and discriminated by others.


The movie “Higher Learning” presented the many different kinds of discrimination that university students can or may have experienced. The movie showed how anyone can be judgmental about someone else’s discrimination and yet have their own set of personal preconceived negative ideas, prejudices and biases without recognizing it. After watching the movie, I realized the importance of having a positive self-identity so I would not feel a strong need to be accepted or be susceptible to negative peer groups who can influence me with negative philosophies. One other lesson I learned, is the importance of open communication, and the need for dialogues to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

Racial prejudices still exists in our culture and different forms. Racism in America, specifically the negative perception about black men, still has not changed in more than 20 years. I still see racism issues that have triggered violent incidents that have promoted more violence. The lessons that need to be “unlearned” as presented in the 1995 movie, “Higher Learning” to this day are still unresolved, ignored and have failed to influence significant change in society as a whole.

However, I believe there still is hope if each member of society does their share to make a positive change. It has to start from me. I can do my share by practicing “higher learning”, which means going through the process of unlearning my own negative preconceived ideas, prejudices and biases, and start exerting effort to influence positive change in me and in others.


College Choice. (2018). Become Part of a Legacy at one of the Nation’s Best Historically Black

Colleges and Universities.

Retrieved April 24, 2018, from

Kimble, Julian. (2015). So Close, Yet So Far: The World Hasn't Learned Much since the Release

of "Higher Learning". Retrieved April 25, 2018, from

Virginia Union University. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 26, 2018, from


September 25, 2023




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