Kierra’s Legacy: No One Comes Here Alone

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.

 

Merry Christmas, Berea

Christmas Tree outside Boone TavernChristmas in Berea is an especially beautiful and moving time.  Laurie and I deeply enjoy and appreciate the time we get to spend in fellowship with other Bereans, from our annual Christmas Concert held at Union Church to numerous campus celebrations.  The lighting of the tree on College Square proclaims the wonders of the season and, truly, they fill the campus and the town with spirit.

We will be spending our Christmas in Michigan with children, grandchildren and other close family members, a chance to share in the blessing of the season as well as an opportunity to maintain our cold weather and snow skills.

Laurie joins me in sending our best wishes to all Bereans.  So, from the Roelofs family to yours, we hope your holiday break—whether you celebrate Christmas or another seasonal tradition—is filled with joy and laughter and coming together with family and friends and that you will experience good health, abundant blessings and every success in the coming year!

Roelofs family photo

What It Means to Top Washington Monthly’s List

Several years ago, Berea College joined more than 100 other liberal arts colleges in taking the position that the college rankings produced by US News and World Report do not represent a true measure of the quality and effectiveness of any particular school’s education. This large group of colleges is known as the Annapolis Group, and it includes many of the institutions that routinely do very well in that ranking.

Graduate holding a Berea College diploma

The factors that motivated that concern were centered on false measures of quality on which the US News and World Report ranking is based.  For example, those metrics include the total spending per student, which does not reflect whether that spending really contributes to educational quality or not.  Heavy weight is also assigned to a reputational assessment that tends to perpetuate forever whatever judgment of quality was once in place.

The rating system was also pernicious in incentivizing colleges and universities to make decisions based upon how they might affect their rankings rather than on what is best for students and even society at large. These decisions often have real and detrimental effects on low-income students, in the following ways:

  1. By heavily weighting test scores, like the SAT and ACT, students in the top income brackets, who routinely score higher, are favored for admission. There is a similar bias against first-generation students, who also do not score as well as those with parents who have been college. Also, more affluent students can pay to take these tests several times and improve their scores.
  2. Students with higher test scores can be offered more financial aid as an incentive to enroll in a particular school to improve rankings, which means, again, students from lower income families are overlooked.
  3. Colleges and universities looking to rise in the rankings spend more per student, which effectively raises tuition and attracts wealthier students. Colleges spending less per student and offering the same quality of education are penalized in the rankings.

Berea College has always stood against these perverse incentives, because they are in direct conflict with our mission.  We admit only students with limited financial resources and consider so much more than test scores in making admission decisions.

Graduation mortar board that says "Loans, What are Those?!?"

For those reasons we do not look to the US News and World Report rankings as any sort of measure of how we are achieving our mission.  On the other hand, we are very proud of our ranking in Washington Monthly, which developed its annual College Guide and Rankings in response and reaction to US News. For the past two years, we have been listed in the Washington Monthly rankings as the No. 1 liberal arts college in the nation. In addition, we were named the “Best Bang for the Buck,” which is appropriate considering we do not charge our students tuition.  (Tons of “bang” for zero “bucks!”)

Washington Monthly describes its rating system in the following way:

We rate schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and Ph.Ds), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).

Achieving a top ranking in Washington Monthly matches our values and goals, and so is very satisfying.  In fact it is a powerful validation of what we do every day at Berea. And, most importantly, we do not have to change who we are to achieve it!

 

Our New Great Commitments Website

While most institutions strive to explain their missions in a short “elevator pitch” or one clear statement, our mission is too expansive for us to be able to that. Instead, we have our eight Great Commitments, and now an entire website devoted to exploring them in depth.

In development for more than a year, the new site offers visitors the chance to learn what the commitments mean, how they’ve evolved over time, what we’re doing now to live them out, and what we plan to do in the future in relation to them. Anyone wanting to learn about Berea College’s singular mission and be inspired can now do so by visiting a single site.

The Great Commitments originated in the 1960s, when the College outlined the essence of its mission in (at that time) six statements.  (Later updates included some fissioning, so the six have become eight.) These statements gave voice to the important cultural and moral values of our institution: educational opportunity for those who can’t afford to go to college; the liberal arts; inclusive Christianity; the chance to work at campus jobs to pay for related expenses and gain job experience; interracial education and gender equality; wellness, mindful and residential living, and sustainability; and, finally, service to Appalachia.

Over the decades we have treated the Commitments as a living document, updating the language to both reflect modern realities and maintain their spirit and intent. Formal updates have been undertaken several times over the last few decades, most recently earlier this year.   As in previous rewordings, updating the language was a years-long and campus-wide effort, including as well, approval by the Board of Trustees.

You can read an updated PDF of the Commitments here, but for a more immersive experience, please visit our new site, and feel free to offer your feedback for how to make it better—or just tell us what you like!

Grieving Another Unspeakable Tragedy

Dear Bereans,

Last Sunday evening our nation suffered another unspeakable tragedy in the mass murders that took place in Las Vegas.  Fifty-nine persons have died, each leaving behind an awful vacancy for their family members and loved ones; hundreds of others were injured; and nearly everyone else present will never be able to forget the horror of the experience.  This is trauma for our entire country.

Our flag now flies at half mast, as we join the rest of the nation in grief and mourning for all the many victims of this horrendous event, their families and loved ones.

What occurred was a hate crime of unprecedented proportion.  Not one targeting a particular group of human beings, but rather, seemingly, an act of pure evil, targeting other human beings randomly, persons who had gathered to celebrate and appreciate one of the cultural enjoyments of everyday Americans, country music.  Perhaps in time we will come to understand a bit better than we can at the moment, what might have motivated the shooter.  No vestige of understanding, however, could possibly stand in comparison to the degree of suffering he inflicted with his heartless fusillade.

What we can conclude from such an event is for all of us as a nation to ponder.  In the meantime, the support available to us is what is always at hand for members of the Berea College community.  At yesterday’s Chapel service, Chaplain Groth’s message and the selections sung by members of the Black Music Ensemble reminded us that, even in desperate situations such as we’ve witnessed this week, we can reach beyond ourselves to find comfort and peace.  Let’s be sensitive to one another, too, knowing that each of us deals with tragic circumstances in our own ways.  Please also note that you can avail yourself of a number of campus resources, including the Campus Christian Center and Counseling Services, for individual help in times such as this.

Only love can overcome hate, and the impartial love advocated by Rev. John G. Fee, founder of Berea College, is the only conceivable response to the seemingly impartial hatred exhibited by the perpetrator of this heinous act.

In sadness,

Lyle Roelofs, President

Berea College

Coming Together after Charlottesville

Dear Berea Beloved Community,

The tragic events that occurred last Saturday in Charlottesville are further reminders of just how long and difficult is our nation’s journey toward peace and racial justice. There have been too many reminders of that long ordeal in the last couple of years, but this one seems especially significant, because this was not one rogue racist or police officer, but rather a gathering of people, coming together to intimidate and threaten Americans who are not white, to undermine American values, and to express the worst kind of hatred. White supremacist, neo-Nazi terrorists target many groups—African Americans, Latinx, all other non-white ethnicities, Jewish Americans, LBGTQ folks—the list goes on. All these Americans are right to be deeply concerned by the rise of this scourge, but truly we are all threatened by this drive to undermine the very character of American society.

On the plus side, the response of many other Americans was courageous, vigorous and well organized. We are heartened by the resistance of many of our fellow citizens to these messages of hate and exclusion, and reminded of how we Bereans have always relied on our Great Commitments, the power of Love over Hate, and the strength of our inclusive slogan—God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth (Acts 17:26).

Since its founding, Berea College has very much been a part of the effort of reconciliation—to restore to African Americans some part of what had been taken from them; to make it possible for whites and blacks to live together in unity; to make fundamental changes in our culture. In the 21st century, we continue to add our voices to the cry for justice and for human rights, for the ideals of our country and the mission of this College and the City of Berea. Let’s also continue the fight on every battlefield—in the courts, in the Congress, federal and state agencies, in the schools and churches, and through the power of the ballot box.

In this time of challenge, we ask all Bereans to raise their voices in support of justice for all, and to remember and raise up in prayer the victims and their loved ones, as well as all those whose interests and rights as Americans were threatened in the Charlottesville rally. Continue to hold to our ideals, seeking peace with justice and relying on the power of love over hate.

Only love is strong enough to break down the walls of skepticism, prejudice, indifference, and fear. Pray with us that the Light of God’s impartial love, as promoted by Rev. Fee, our founder, will shine through the darkness and set us all free—free to see the beauty, worth, and dignity of all God’s children, whom God has indeed made of one blood.

On Tuesday, August 29th, our Noon Chapel service in Danforth Chapel will be dedicated to a time of solidarity, support, healing, and hope. We invite and encourage you to join us.

Standing firm with you,

Lyle Roelofs President

Rev. Loretta Reynolds
Interim Director and College Chaplain
Campus Christian Center