It was also difficult to ignore the fact that he had stepped into a place that had not come to terms with the presence of gay men on campus. There were the casually cruel statements from some of the straight guys and the tortuous code of silence from the guys on the down low. There were ministers-in-training who tried to convert Brewer's gay friends with prayer. There were gay seniors who advised him to tone it down.
Brewer soon realized that the campus was in a profound state of soul-searching and flux on the issue of homosexuality. For decades, he learned, Morehouse had lived with a schizophrenic reputation. The school, unfairly or not, was known for harboring a large number of gay men. "Morehouse takes your money and makes you funny," an old saying went.
Yet throughout the 1990s the Princeton Review regularly listed Morehouse among its top 20 homophobic campuses, based on student surveys. Aaron Parker, a veteran Morehouse religion professor, thinks some of that had to do with straight students being sensitive to the slights about Morehouse being a "gay" school.
But the issue may have been exacerbated by the school's special mission. "Black colleges functioned for years and years to discredit the claims that black people were somehow inferior," said Horace Griffin, a Morehouse graduate and theology professor who has written about gay history.
Back when homosexuality was considered a perversion, he said, black colleges strove to deny that it was present on their campuses.
For generations, the unspoken rule for gay Morehouse men was "don't ask, don't tell." In some cases, defiance of that rule meant trouble. University of Texas professor Jafari Sinclaire Allen was a gay student at Morehouse in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Socially ostracized after coming out -- and later forming a gay student group that eventually dissolved -- he recalled fleeing the campus one evening after a forum on homophobia turned ugly. He and his friends feared he might be beaten. Allen didn't return to campus for 17 years.
An uglier incident occurred in 2002, two years before Brewer arrived. A sophomore named Aaron Price beat a student with a baseball bat because he thought the man was making a sexual advance.
Price was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Administrators fretted over the bad publicity, and influential alumni weighed in on the best course of action for the school. Kevin Rome, the vice president of student services, joined the staff three years ago and heard some alumni suggest screening out gay applicants.
Instead, the school held diversity seminars -- an odd concept, perhaps, at a school that has only a few students who aren't black. But some faculty and staff members said the efforts encouraged students to take a more civil tone when discussing gay rights.
Meanwhile, another dynamic was also altering the climate: Students of Brewer's generation were showing up at Morehouse more comfortable with being openly gay. Parker, the religion professor, has been discussing gay rights issues in his classes for years, but it was only four years ago, he said, that a student spoke up and identified himself as gay. Now, he said, it is a regular occurrence.
The result has been a small groundswell of activity. After the beating, gay students formed a support group, Safe Space, which Brewer joined. The president of Brewer's freshman class, Jameel Smith, caused a stir when he came out soon after his election. Last year, students at Spelman produced a documentary that took a frank look at the gay and lesbian experiences on the two campuses. And a Morehouse political science major recently chose to do his senior thesis on "queer studies" -- hardly a radical move at most campuses but a bit of a shock at Morehouse.
"The other professors in the department about had a stroke," assistant professor Sharon Vaughan said. "Some of them are older. A lot of this is generational."
Isaiah Wilson, 21, a gay senior, said that someone slipped a death threat under his door during his freshman year. But he believes the school has benefited because he and others refused to conceal their sexual orientation.
"You're going to have the idea of the Morehouse man evolve over the years," he said.
Brewer agrees. He thinks he opened the mind of his freshman roommate, who came from a conservative, churchgoing family. An aspiring organizer, Brewer earned a reputation as a star in the political science department and found that straight guys who once shunned him began turning to him for homework help.
"They see I've got the game sewed up," he said. "The tide is definitely changing."
But it has only changed so much. Brewer will graduate at the end of the summer with a few regrets. Twice he tried to join a fraternity; twice he was rejected.
Each time, he said, the explanation came "through the grapevine: 'Oh, man, you had it except. . . .' "