Because of, Not in Spite Of: A Holiday Message

Berea College Christmas Ball Ornament

 “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

This is a season when people of many different spiritual backgrounds celebrate holidays, and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about Berea College’s commitment to inclusive Christian values, a guiding philosophy that drives us to accept, minister to, and embrace and learn from people of different faiths or no faith at all. This approach has its roots in our founding.

Our founder, Christian abolitionist, the Reverend John G. Fee, viewed the mission of providing an education to those most in need regardless of “caste” as a way to “promote the Cause of Christ.” The “Cause of Christ” was one of unity and social reform, hence Fee’s insistence on the school being nonsectarian, and one of providing for the needy in a way that transcends difference. Fee took the guiding motto of Berea, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth” (Acts 17:26) from scripture to emphasize that kinship we all share has its foundation in faith. And that kinship means looking past the surface issues that divide us—race, class, gender or creed—to love and learn from each other in all possible ways.

Some educational communities strive to be religiously inclusive by diminishing the significance of any particular faith commitment.  We take the alternative approach of encouraging everyone on their respective spiritual journeys, realizing with Rabbi Sacks and so many other great religious thinkers that thereby our way will be more brightly lit.

In short, Berea College is inclusive of all people, regardless of faith, because of our Christian commitment, not in spite of that commitment. This approach gets beyond mere tolerance. It’s not just letting others work or go to school here, it’s about loving each other and wanting to engage with each other, agreeing that the spiritual commitment of others enriches our own and vice versa.

The Christmas season—a time for “peace on earth and goodwill towards men”—is the perfect time of year for reaffirming the kinship we all share and celebrating the myriad ways we can live and study alongside each other in mutual appreciation and work toward the common good of all humanity.

With that in mind, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a joyous season for all traditions. May we open our hearts and minds to one another in peace and love.

Of Forests and Foresters

The Berea College Forest has been a wonderful resource for Berea, both the College and the Town. This nearly 9000 wooded acres, much of it hilly and all of it beautiful, provides many dividends to the College and to all local folks who take advantage of it: hiking and climbing; bird and wildlife observation; a learning laboratory in sustainability and commitment to the natural environment for our students; wild flowers and other aspects of the flora of the region, water for our town and the area, wood for local mills and for use at the College, and our contribution to the challenge of dealing with the runaway atmospheric load of carbon dioxide.

Environmental prophet Aldo Leopold, in his most important work, Sand County Almanac, provides both our forestry motto, “Think like a mountain,” and our paradigm for managing this college asset.  Leopold wrote, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

The week of October 27th through November 3rd was Biological Woodsmen Week. Restorative foresters joined our own foresters, and horses Holly and Willow, to demonstrate sustainable forestry (Photo gallery below). While they were logging in the Berea College Forest, the foresters harvested thousands of board-feet of lumber, the horses replacing bulldozers and skidders that pollute and contribute to erosion.

On the final day, the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center hosted a Biological Woodsmen gathering and restorative forestry demonstration, which included selecting and felling a tree and showing those in attendance how these magnificent horses pull together to transport the logs out of the forest. Special guests for the day included founder of the Healing Harvest Forestry Foundation Jason Rutledge, Berea Mayor Steven Connelly, and Kentucky literary great Wendell Berry. Attendees followed the woodsmen into the forest, and observed the practice of sustainable forestry.

Rutledge entertained the crowd with his trademark wit, explaining that horse logging was not a thing of the past, but the future. Horses, he said, unlike machines, “are solar powered, self-repairing, and self-renewing.”  Emphasizing the last of those he noted, “You’ve never found a baby tractor in the barn!”   Rutledge recalled attending a traditional forestry conference.  After his presentation a skeptic suggested that surely Rutledge would agree that all the wood in Appalachia couldn’t be harvested with horses.  He responded, “Do you mean again?”  

We hope Aldo Leopold was also present in spirit.  He would have agreed that these loggers and their animals represent the correct approach to management of the Berea College forest.

I want to thank Clint Patterson, Berea College Forester, and Wendy Warren, Director of the Forestry Outreach Center, for their efforts to make Biological Woodsmen Week a success. I also want to thank Glenn Dandeneau, Trey Prather and the students of our forestry team for their hard work in sustaining this tremendous community resource while teaching Berea students to do the same.

A Cause for Sorrow

Below are President’s Roelofs’ remarks following the shooting in Pittsburgh, which went out to the campus community Sunday, October 28. 

Dear Bereans,

Yesterday we had another reminder of the tragic consequences of hate in our world.  All Bereans join in mourning with Jewish people, including those in our own community, as we try to come to grips with the unthinkable.   A deranged gunman, filled with hate for people different than himself, attacked innocent people, people who were praying and exercising their religious observances in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, reminding us of the evils that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston just four years ago and at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2016.

In Pittsburgh, we also saw instances of great bravery as law enforcement officers responded quickly to the reports and risked their own lives to rescue those who were in danger.  Tragically, some of them were injured, too, two of them critically, as the gunman was armed with very dangerous weapons.

We pray for all of those injured, both the innocent victims and among those who responded.  We also pray for all of those who lost friends and relatives in the tragedy, and those whose faith and confidence in their safety and the ideals of our nation have been so grievously shaken.  We also must pray, even if it is so very hard to do, for all those whose hearts are filled with the sort of hate that emerges in acts of such rage and blindness.

In times like this, we need to remind ourselves of the ultimate power of love over hate.  Even when it seems that hate is resurgent in our society, instances of love in their countless thousands, most of which go unreported and unnoticed beyond their immediate small circles, still do more good in the world than can be undone by hateful acts that command our attention.  Let us be sure that we, as individuals and as the Berea College community, are on the side of love, the impartial love of our founder that is the basis for a moral imperative that we can all, no matter our particular faith perspective, embrace and strive to live out every day.

In sorrow,

Lyle Roelofs, President

 

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Mural at Old Mexican Consulate in Washington DC

Mural at Old Mexican Consulate in Washington, D.C.

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage month in the U.S., and this blog is inspired by the wonderful cohorts of Hispanic faculty, staff, students, and alumni at Berea College.  As usual, we prefer to focus on the students at Berea, and so I am glad to say that for 2017-18, Hispanic-, Latinx-, or Spanish- origin students accounted for 11% of our student body, 12% of our admitted students, and 13% of our transfer-student admits.  In the current year, the admitted cohort constitutes 13% of total admissions— an impressive increase from the first year we collected the data, 2010, when the percentage was under 4%.  The U.S. Census reports that Hispanic or Latino people constitute 18.1% of the American population, with heavy concentration in Florida, Texas, California and the rest of the American Southwest.  As these areas are all outside our admissions territory, it is perhaps not surprising that our student body percentage is only about 2/3 the overall national percentage. The Hispanic population, however, is growing, particularly in the southern areas of our admissions territory, so we expect our admissions numbers to continue to increase.

These sorts of large-scale demographic classifications, of course, mask a great deal of diversity in a population.  So here are some more interesting facts.

  • Over the last decade, we have had Hispanic-American students from 24 different states/territories spanning from Rhode Island to Oregon to Puerto Rico, but with the largest numbers overall from our typical In-Territory regions.  From beyond our admissions territory, the largest numbers come, unsurprisingly, from Texas, Florida, California, and Illinois.
  • The nation of origin situation is even more complicated…
    • Some of our F-1 International students are Hispanic; in the incoming class last year, we enrolled a total of 13 students from 10 Central and South American countries and one from Spain, compared to about 30 international students overall, which means that about 40% of our international students are Hispanic.
    • You can also compare that number of 14 international Hispanics to 57 Hispanic students admitted from the U.S., so about 1 in 4 of our Hispanic students are internationals.
    • We also have a few non F-1 Hispanic students of international origin, typically American citizens who happen to be living in other countries when they apply.
  • According to national statistics, fewer than half of American-born Hispanics are fluent in Spanish, and the proportion is even less among the younger cohorts.  We don’t have precise data for the Berea student body, but based on reported primary language used at home, it seems that 50 – 60% of Berea Hispanic students are fluent in Spanish.
  • Hispanic Berea students pursue patterns of majors that are very similar to the student body as a whole, with biology, nursing, business and psychology leading the way.
  • Hispanic-American students have roughly similar urban rural patterns to the rest of the Berea student body.
  • We also monitor academic success carefully at Berea College, and here there is less diversity in this population, as Hispanic-American students outperform all other American Bereans in first- to-second-year persistence. That number for the current year amounts to 92.3%!
    Latinx Berea students demonstrate to raise awareness of DACA student struggles.

    Latinx Berea students demonstrate to raise awareness of DACA student struggles.

These differences, the fact of their connections to non-mainstream U.S. cultures, and a sense that America is becoming less welcoming to their ethnic group make identity a somewhat complicated matter for Latinos and Latinas.  Some have had to deal with hostility; some are DACAmented and face an uncertain future; some wonder where their homeland really is; and some, especially those whose families have been in the U.S. longer, struggle with the question, “Am I Latino/a enough?”  Yet, as individuals and as a group they contribute so much to our campus community and so these challenges are a matter of concern and sympathetic regret for all of their fellow Bereans.  It is important for us to know and care, as it is also so appropriate to celebrate these wonderful Bereans this month.

I conclude with the words of a song by Gloria Estefan that captures some of this identity complexity…

 

Mi Tierra

Tiene un quejido, mi tierra

Tiene un lamento mi tierra

Nunca la olvido mi tierra

La llevo en mi sentimiento…

Oigo ese grito mi tierra

Vive el recuerdo mi tierra

Corre en mi sangre mi tierra

La llevo por dentro como no

Canto de mi tierra bella y santa

Sufro ese dolor que hay en su alma

Aunque estoy lejos yo la siento

Y un día regreso yo lo sé

 

My Homeland

My land has a regret, a lament

I never forget my land

I carry it in my heart, yes

I hear the cry of my land

My land lives out the memory

My land runs in my blood

I carry it inside

I sing of my beautiful and sacred land

I suffer that pain of its soul

Even though I’m far away I feel it

And I know one day I will return

 

Losing Weight: Where Does It Go?

It seems that one of the universals of human experience is that many of us would like to lose some weight.  Whether it is a “late middle-aged” person like myself whose doctor says I should do it or a first-year student distressed at gaining the legendary “freshman 15” thanks to the plentiful food options in the Mountaineer Dining Room and not enough time for exercise, we might find ourselves above our optimum weight for our height and age and want to do something about that.

We all know that the physiological formula for weight loss is relatively simple: a person must burn more food calories than they consume.  That would seem to involve more or different exercise and less or different eating.  I am not a weight loss professional or a nutritionist, so this blog is not about the complex topic of how we should approach the challenges of actually getting ourselves to do either of those things.  There are real experts who can be more helpful.

Rather, I want to discuss an interesting question of physics and chemistry that lurks here, too.  That question is: if we are succeeding in losing weight, where exactly does that weight go? The somewhat surprising answer is that you breathe it out.

Our bodies make energy from the food we eat, combining it with oxygen from the air we breathe. When the metabolic process is complete and energy has been supplied to our cells and used for all of their complex processes (running, walking, lifting weights, even thinking!) what is left behind are molecules of water and carbon dioxide. If we are normal, healthy individuals, the water component of our weight stays in balance, equal amounts in and out (through various means including breathing out air that is more moist than what we breath in) so permanent weight loss is not explained by the water component.

The carbon dioxide, CO2, is the key.  Each breath in is the same volume as each breath out, a couple of liters for the normal person.  But the constitution of the breath in and the breath out is not the same.  About 20% of the air coming in is oxygen, O2, and of that 20% some is consumed in the above metabolic process and replaced with an equal number of CO2 molecules.  So THAT is where the weight loss actually occurs—it is the replacement of some of the lighter O2 molecules with their weightier cousins.

Of course, it is discouraging that molecules are very light and so each molecular replacement does not involve much weight loss.  Fortunately, there are a lot of them.  A little bit of first-year chemistry establishes that replacing the oxygen in 50 regular breaths with carbon dioxide would result in a loss of 12 grams of mass, which converts to a weight reduction of about 0.03 lbs.  And, on top of that, our bodies are not 100% efficient in replacing all of the oxygen with carbon dioxide in each breath.  It’s only about 20%, typically, so that it actually takes 250 breaths to expel just 0.03 lbs, or about 8000 breaths to lose a single pound, or to compensate for a pound of carbon in the food you ate in your last meal.  I breathe about 20 times per minute when I am just sitting there, so at that rate, it takes me 400 minutes or about 7 hours to breathe out a pound of extra weight.

Still, it is heartening that just sitting there (or even sleeping!) and breathing is doing something.  (That’s why you weigh a bit less in the morning than when you go to bed.)  When we reduce what we are eating sufficiently, the carbon to make the carbon dioxide exhausts what we take in by eating and has to come instead from fat reserves in the body, and that is when we start to see in the mirror the physiological effects of breathing out the carbon.

It is really hard to reduce one’s eating to that point, so the other alternative is to breathe more, to breathe faster and more deeply.  That’s why and how exercise helps.  When we walk briskly or run, we breathe more rapidly—likely twice as fast and 50% more deeply—and the outbreaths have increased carbon dioxide, too.  That way we use up the carbon from eating more quickly and start dipping into the reserves.  So, the key is to do both.  Control the intake of calories and exercise to increase your respiration.President's dog joining a run

With that little lesson in physics and chemistry in mind, I would like to invite everyone to join us for the Run/Walk Club, which meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 a.m. We start at the Seabury Center, and everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace. Walkers go down to Middletown School and back, about two miles, and those who run with me continue on to the Artisan Center, which is about four miles round trip. The Run/Walk Club is a great opportunity for us to encourage each other to stay healthy by increasing the amount “exhaust” we produce.

[I want to thank Dr. A. J. Mortara of the Health and Human Performance department for his capable assistance with the technical details of respiration and exercise in the above.  You should know, too, that Dr. Mortara has equipment for doing detailed metabolic measurements on you while you are exercising, and that he is the campus expert on all of these matters.]

Kierra’s Legacy: No One Comes Here Alone

Kierra Moore outdoor headshot

Kierra Moore ’18
(Photo: Jennifer Lance ’20)

As we begin a new academic year, I wanted to share a little inspiration. Many Berea students come from difficult backgrounds, yet they overcome and succeed here at Berea College. Kierra Moore, who graduates in December, is a great example. I first met Kierra at the Carter G. Woodson Legacy Award ceremony last spring, where she delivered a spoken word piece to the students visiting that weekend.

Kierra’s story is longer than I can share fully here.  She is a first-generation college student and describes growing up in a high-crime neighborhood in an abusive environment that eventually led to a struggle with homelessness. Determined to better her situation, she applied to Berea, and was accepted. It was a brave leap of faith to make the 10 ½ hour journey from Maryland alone to a place so quiet she couldn’t sleep at first. This summer, the senior communications major interned for Eli Lilly and a very bright future awaits her.

The poem Kierra presented at the award ceremony is included below. Its title,“Legacy,” is so apt because, as she explains, Berea College students don’t come to school here alone—they bring the hopes and yearnings of others with them.

“It’s not just you you’re going to school for,” she said. “A lot of Berea students are first generation. They’re going to school for everyone in their family, the generations before. The people where they’re from may not see a way out but they give them hope. I have people calling me from back home asking how they can get out of their situation. They want to know how they can go to college, too. I just love talking to them and telling them what they need to do.”

In that way, every Berea student becomes a legacy, and Kierra’s poem reminds students they, too, can be a Carter G. Woodson, a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Rosa Parks, inspiring and showing the way for others. What an important message!!!  That’s why I wanted to include her poem here at the beginning of another school year, reminding us all that we are legacies, striving, in turn, to leave even brighter legacies for future generations.

Legacy

By Kierra Moore

“If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” – Dr. Carter G. Woodson

As we walk through the front door at peace and with ease, we tend not to remember the men, women and children that picked cotton on their hands and knees, with whip marks and blood running down their backs.
Strong, yes, we are that.

As we walk through the front door of a library to pick up a book, we must remember the education that was denied because slaves weren’t allowed to read books.

As we sit on the front seat of a bus, we don’t expect to be told sit in the back. We don’t expect to be spit on or arrested, not any of that, but do you reflect on Rosa Parks’ brave act?

You know I wasn’t supposed to be here today.

A statistic,

Most likely

But here standing before you, no not me

Oh yeah

Father in prison

Domestic violence

Sexual abuse

Homelessness

These are just some of my truths

Yet I walk through the front door with a crown on my head because Dr. Carter G Woodson was one of many people who paved the way for the Kings and Queens in this room today.

Yes, Kings and Queens, hold your head high and wear your crown with pride

And begin to recognize that you have a legacy to uphold

A legacy that is the hope for families, communities and generations to come

A legacy so complex that it can only be compared to the diamonds found on your crowns

It will not be broken or shatter like glass

Yet, it will bring true meaning to “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last”

You, like the people before us, must pave the way for future change

You are a leader, a world changer and a way-maker

So hold your head high and wear that crown as you walk through the front door never forget the legacy that you are a part of now.

Hillbilly Elegy—Other Voices

Outside of Appalachia, the term “Appalachia” conveys a stereotype for many Americans—a region that is rural, poor, white, and addicted to opioids. That’s unfair because today the region encompasses 28 million people in rural, urban, and suburban settings that are increasingly diverse.

The stereotype dates from around the turn of the 20th century when Berea College president William Goodell Frost coined the phrase “Appalachian America.” He described the region as the “back yards of 9 states” and provided a cultural description that wasn’t entirely accurate even then. He painted Appalachians as isolated, poor, uneducated, and white. This description was highly selective and ignored other realities that existed simultaneously that would contradict. The most unfortunate result was an unfair generalization that would persist until present day, when images of downtrodden mountaineers, almost always presumed to be white, show up regularly in the national media: for briefer treatments, appealing to a familiar stereotype is easier than doing the in-depth study necessary to tell a richer and more complex truth. In books and other more extended treatments, however, one is entitled to expect genuine sensitivity to the nuances and complexity of cultural reality, but, from that point of view, J. D. Vance’s best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy is a major disappointment.

Perhaps intentionally (and certainly without malice), Vance’s representation of Appalachia serves to advance the Appalachian stereotype while failing to address the context of the issues that plague the region. Nor is there much attention for the folks working to improve the lives of people in the more challenged areas.  Instead Vance, whose family left the region before he was born, produces an oversimplified version of Appalachia; his central message is that cultural deficiencies explain all the challenges of Appalachian America. The biggest problem is that he begins with a family memoir and applies it by book’s end to 28 million people.

Appalachia is an important region to Berea because Kentucky and Appalachia are our primary service regions and have been since our founding in 1855. Over the past century and a half, while industrialists were mining for coal, we were discovering and nurturing intellect. And we found it in abundance. The Berea College service region has brought forth a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, a secretary of commerce, and the inventor of the concept of touch-screen technology. The potential of the area and the struggles unique to it are why we invest so much into outreach through the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center and Partners for Education. We are dedicated to the real Appalachia, not the Appalachia shown on TV or profiled in best-selling memoirs that oversimplify a rich and multicultural geographical area.

So, I am happy that Chris Green, the director of our Appalachian Center, has announced an essay contest, entries to be judged by award-winning author Silas House, inviting people of the region to tell their success stories. There are already enough stories like Vance’s, about “escaping” from the region, but what about the majority who stick around and build productive lives? The “Appalachian Narratives for Our Time” essay contest looks to tell these stories.

I’ve also included in this post a video of our dean, Chad Berry, and Silas discussing some of the ways Vance’s book falls short in addressing the issues unique to Appalachia. Perhaps if we keep using our voices to remind folks of the rich complexity of our region, one day our fellow Americans will begin to listen, to learn, and to be amazed.

A $200 Million Impact

Recently, we approached Younger Associates to conduct a study to measure the impact of Berea College on the local economy. The outcome: over $200 million flows through Madison County as a result of ongoing College operations. This is a really big number, and it does not even include the economic impact of the College beyond our county. The video above goes into detail about the study.

The largest economic impact on Madison County is through employment. We employ 727 full-time College employees directly, AND there are more than 2,100 additional jobs generated indirectly because of our operations. These jobs are distributed across all sectors, from retail and professional services to transportation and construction. In total, Berea College injects more than $114 million into the local economy through salaries, wages, and benefits. Collectively, these employees spend about $89 million at local businesses each year.

We are tremendously proud of the impact the College has had on the community in terms of dollars and cents—almost as proud as we are of the impact we have on individual students who earn their bachelor’s degrees and go on to earn significantly more than they would if they had not attended college.  Finally, we are proudest of all about how our graduates go on to lives of service and leadership wherever they settle, whether in Madison County, back home where they came from, or throughout the United States, knowing that that sort impact is much harder to measure in dollars and cents.

Berea Women Make History

Coeducational since our founding in 1855, Berea College has been dedicated to gender equality for over 160 years. For Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight a few of the many success stories from Berea women.

Juanita Kreps ‘42One of our most prestigious alumni, Juanita Kreps ’42, served as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Commerce from 1977 to 1979 and was the first female director on the New York Stock Exchange. A true testament to Berea’s mission of serving bright, high-potential students of limited means from Appalachia, Kreps hailed from the coal mining town of Lynch, Kentucky, and grew up during the Great Depression. After earning her B.A. in economics at Berea, she went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Duke University, which tapped her for the James B. Duke professorship– the University’s most prestigious chair. During her career, Kreps encouraged women to seek advanced degrees, more meaningful careers, and to reject the then widely accepted idea that a successful marriage was a woman’s only goal.

Dr. Donna J. Dean ‘69Another Kentucky success story, Dr. Donna J. Dean ’69, grew up on a tobacco farm in neighboring Garrard County. Currently the executive consultant to the Association for Women in Science and career consultant for the American Chemical Society, Dr. Dean is the author of two recent books, Equitable Solutions for Retaining a Robust STEM Workforce and Getting the Most Out of Your Mentoring Relationships: A Handbook for Women in STEM.  After earning her B.A. in chemistry from Berea and her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Duke, she spent 27 years as a federal executive at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. In 2007, Berea College presented Dr. Dean with the Distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition of her accomplishments and for her tireless advocacy for the inclusion of women and members of other underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce.

Dejuana Thompson ‘05A more recent alumna, DeJuana Thompson ’05, is having an impact in the political arena. After graduating with a degree in communications, Thompson worked on the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Senator Cory Booker. The founder of Woke Vote, Thompson was instrumental in galvanizing millennials and the African American community, whose votes propelled Doug Jones to victory in the December 2017 special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Currently, she serves as the national deputy director for community engagement and African American engagement director for the Democratic National Committee.

There are so many other female Berea graduates who could have been celebrated, so these three are really just emblems of how Berea women, going all the way back to our founding, have been serving as shining examples of what can be accomplished through education.

Administrative CouncilAt Berea, we strive to live out these values through institutional policies and practices. The results, I think, speak for themselves. Our Administrative Committee, the senior management of the College, is 50 percent women. Women constitute 47 percent of our faculty, and serve in many important leadership roles.  Our six-year graduation rate for women is over 72 percent, compared to a national average of just 55 percent.

In short, Berea women having been making history, and their experience makes the case, elegantly and beautifully, for our mission of providing educational opportunity to all, regardless of income, gender or other factors of identity. Together they are demonstrating the importance of leveling the playing field, so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

In observance of Women’s History Month, the College reaffirms its commitment to an educational environment that supports degree-seeking women, and expresses its pride in the amazing accomplishment of Berea women.

Interracial Education at Berea College

Carter G. Woodson

As an institution, Berea College has a deep connection with Black History Month. 1903 alumnus Carter G. Woodson is the known as the Father of Black History. In 1926, Woodson created Negro History Week, the precursor of Black History Month.  And of course, Berea College is now home to the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education.

Woodson graduated from Berea in one of the last graduating classes that would include African Americans until 1954. In the first decade of the 20th century, the tides of segregation were rising in the South, and Berea’s African American enrollment had begun to decrease.  Then, in 1904, Kentucky’s Day Law was passed barring integrated education throughout the State.  Berea College, then the only interracial school in Commonwealth, was the sole target of this law, an injustice our institution fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Berea College v. Kentucky (1908), was decided against Berea, and interracial integration at Berea went into complete hiatus.   Arrangements were made to relocate Berea’s students of color to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), while the College also sought to continue to serve the African-American population by working to found the Lincoln Institute in Shelby County, Kentucky.

After the unjust segregation laws were rescinded in the early 1950s, Berea began to work back toward its original goal of educating black and white students together.  Sixty-eight years later, Berea’s African American student population stands at about 21% of the student body.  With increases in the number of international students and other minorities, Berea’s overall population of students of color now stands at about 40%.

Efforts to recruit more African-American students started slowly.  By the late 1960s, a time when racial tensions were high across the country and also on Berea College’s campus, black students accounted for only six percent of the student body, and there were no black instructors or administrators.  Protesting the slow pace of progress, about 50 students staged a campus walkout. In the aftermath of the protest, Berea introduced its first course in African-American history, and students formed the Black Student Union and the Black Music Ensemble. Both the BSU and the BME continue today as integral parts of our campus culture and community.

Racial tensions continued throughout the early 1970s. When three black students were harassed by white citizens, the students were arrested for carrying a concealed weapon—which was later determined to be “a big stick.” Black students staged a sit-in in Lincoln Hall, occupying the president’s office, to demand fair treatment of their fellow students. Eventually, the charges were dropped.

Berea College has come a long way since that time. The population of students of color on campus has continued to increase, and some of those early activist African-American students of the 1960s and 1970s have gone on to become faculty and administrators at Berea. They include Dr. Jackie Burnside, professor of sociology and chair of Academic Division III; Virgil Burnside, vice president for Student Life; and Andrew Baskin, chair of the African and African American Studies Department.  Other graduates have thrived in positions of influence elsewhere.

At present, we have a much more diverse faculty and staff, and we have continued to enhance our recruitment of African American students by expanding our admissions territories to include more urban areas within and near Appalachia, first in Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Greenville and Charlotte and more recently adding Nashville and Pittsburgh. Given the shift in the racial makeup of Appalachia over the last several decades to include Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnicities—coupled with our commitment to admitting international students—it seems likely that our ethnic diversity will continue to increase. As an institution, we will continue to honor the original motivation of our founders, still guided by the motto they chose, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.”

In addition to our recruitment efforts, we have increased our focus on retention and student success.  These efforts extend across all student populations at Berea, affirming identity and working to ensure that all students understand and feel that they belong at Berea.  Programs that are part of this effort include the Black Male Leadership Initiative, the Appalachian Male Leadership Initiative, the Hispanic Male Leadership Initiative, and programs that operate out of the Black Cultural Center.  These include the S.U.C.C.E.S.S.  (Students United to Create Cultural and Educationally Successful Situations) program, which offers incoming African American students mentoring, skill building, study sessions, and other forms of social support. For African American female students, there is F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. (Fierce Appropriate Beautiful Unique Loving Outstanding Understanding Serious), an initiative for assisting black female students in their transition to college.

Programming is not limited to students, however. It is vital that faculty and staff have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the heritage and history of our African American students, as well as the spaces our students inhabit before they arrive on campus. In an effort to provide that context, newly-hired faculty and staff are encouraged to take the Berea College Civil Rights Tour and Seminar, a week-long excursion to Civil Rights era sites throughout the South.

These initiatives honor Berea’s interracial commitment and heritage, ensuring that it will continue to be one of few truly interracial schools in the nation, a place where students of all races interact and engage, learn from one another, and, ultimately, care for one another as people of one blood.

 

To foster recruitment, retention, and student success, we recently established the African American Opportunity Fund (AAOF). If you are interested in supporting this fund, visit the AAOF page.