Sustainable Construction Builds a Better Future

Deep Green Residence Hall

Deep Green Residence Hall

As Earth Day approaches, it’s a good time to remember that the fight against climate change belongs to all of us. That means we must take actions that reduce greenhouse gases, as individuals and as institutions. One of the ways we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere while using less energy is by changing the way we do construction. Berea College is leading by example through green building practices when we renovate or construct new buildings.


We are already seeing the effects of global climate change. Increases in the earth’s average temperature have led to more wildfires in California, more hurricanes in the Caribbean, and more intense storms in many parts of the country. If the earth’s temperature rises too much, people, especially people with lower incomes, face devastating consequences like food insecurity, water scarcity, flooding, infectious diseases, and extreme heat.

There are many ways to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and Berea College already puts them into practice through initiatives like sustainable farming and carbon capture through the Berea College Forest. Another way we reduce our “carbon footprint” is by being very careful about how we build, including the materials and methods of building and also the systems we use in completed buildings.

Demonstrating better ways to build is a proud part of Berea College history. In the first half of the 20th century, the College provided instructions for building better yet affordable housing throughout Appalachia. In the 21st century, we are leading the way in green construction, hoping other institutions—as they update their campuses—will follow suit.

Our most well-known effort is our “Deep Green” residence hall, which was completed in 2013. At the time of its construction, Deep Green achieved the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating in the world for a residence hall. The brick was 100 percent recycled (made from ground up reject Lenox china, actually); the wood used was procured through mule logging in the Berea College Forest; solar panels provide much of the building’s electricity; low-flow plumbing systems reduce water usage; and special techniques were used to naturally reduce the temperature of the building in summer and increase the temperature in the winter, resulting in less energy used for heating and cooling.

Now approaching a decade in use, Deep Green has averaged 57 percent less energy use intensity (EUI) than typical residence halls in the region. And thanks to systems that increase efficient water usage, residents of Deep Green use 36 percent less water than in a standard dormitory of the same capacity. This means savings in utilities costs, of course, which in the long run, can offset the increased costs of construction and maintenance of enhanced systems.  Over 25 years, we will save nearly $2 million in energy and maintenance system costs..

Using Deep Green as our example to follow, all new buildings and renovations since have strived to achieve high LEED ratings. Anna Smith, Knapp Hall, Dana, and Bingham residence halls all achieved a LEED Gold rating, as did the new Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building and the Boone Tavern.

Danforth Residence Hall is 32 percent more efficient than the average, and its use results in about 123 metric tons less carbon dioxide

Kettering Hall

Kettering Hall

emission per year than a typical dormitory. Kettering Hall will be even more efficient because it was rotated about 45 degrees to the east, meaning that it gets more warming sunlight in the winter, resulting in lower heating costs. Both used more energy-efficient construction methods and materials than standard construction, with exterior walls that boast better thermal efficiency and windows that reflect more solar heat. Using light-density strategies to reduce the number of fixtures needed to meet the required illumination, both first-time building costs and long-term maintenance costs were reduced.

With global climate change upon us, it is urgent that green building practices be implemented worldwide.  The example of Berea College shows that this can be done in a way that also achieves lower costs in the long run, the sort of win-win that makes every kind of sense.


Who’s the Next Juanita Kreps?

Juanita KrepsAmazon Prime’s television series, “Hunters,” features Berea College alumna Juanita Kreps, who graduated in 1942 and went on to become the first female director of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the first woman to serve as Secretary of Commerce in the Jimmy Carter Administration.

The show is a fantasy, not history, and the character the writers invented for Kreps plays foil to a Nazi who secretly worked his way up to the highest levels of the U.S. government. On the show, she exists in a male-dominated space, speaking her truth to power and not backing down when challenged.

This last part, speaking truth and not backing down, is very much faithful to Juanita’s character, if not the part about dealing with secret Nazis. The actual obstacles in her path, when she graduated in the middle of World War II were in some ways just as challenging, if a little less dramatic.

Juanita’s is an extraordinary story about a woman from the small, coal-mining town of Lynch, Kentucky. On campus she studied economics and served as a teaching assistant for Berea College alumnus and economics professor Rector Hardin ’29.  At Hardin’s urging, she went on to Duke University, where Kreps earned a master’s and doctorate in economics, specializing in labor and wages and gender equity in the workplace.  Later she was to bring that expertise with her as the first economist to serve as Secretary of the Department of Commerce.

Kreps made a career of being the first woman to achieve various honors. In addition to being the first woman on the board of directors of the NYSE and to serve as Commerce Secretary, Kreps was also the first woman to be appointed a James B. Duke Professor, Duke University’s highest academic honor. The next year, she was named Duke’s first female vice president, and in 1987, she was the first woman to win the Director of the Year award for the National Association of Corporate Directors. A Berea College trustee, Kreps also served on the corporate boards of AT&T, Armco, Chrysler, Citicorp, Eastman Kodak, J.C. Penney, and RJR Nabisco.

Making stories like Juanita’s possible is what Berea College has always been about. In the mid 19th century, Berea College was the only southern college dedicated to providing educational opportunity to people regardless of race or gender. We’re still devoted to this cause today, educating ambitious students of all genders every day, so that they can also become “a first” like Juanita.

Do you know the next Juanita Kreps? If so, please tell her that Berea College has a place for her, and that she will have inspiring models to emulate. Please tell the next Juanita Kreps that we have worked very hard for more than 150 years to create a space for her. Our motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” (from Acts 17:26) means we welcome all races and genders.  That she might lack the financial resources other young people enjoy is not obstacle—in fact it is a requirement (!), and whether from a little Kentucky town or an inner city, or anywhere else, again, she will be welcome. Tell her we only care about her character, her mind, her determination and what she has to offer the world.

The life experiences of the real Juanita Kreps are even more compelling than fictional accounts of Nazi hunters. During Women’s History Month, we are very proud to be part of many of those exciting stories.

Remembering Gabriel Burdett

Civil War Refugee School at Camp Nelson

This photo shows Black refugees at the school at Camp Nelson.

The bell at First Christian Church in Berea is known as the Freedmen’s Bell. It first rang at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County during the Civil War to call formerly enslaved Black troops and refugees to church and to school. The Reverend Gabriel Burdett, born a slave, became a soldier in the 114th U.S. Colored Infantry. He was there to hear the bell ring, and within four years, he would be named a trustee of the newly established Berea College.

After the war, Burdett stayed behind at Camp Nelson to continue his missionary work, pastoring the Church of Christ there, and working alongside Howard Fee, son of Berea College founder Rev. John G. Fee, to set up a school for Black refugees called the Ariel Academy. Funded by the Freedmen’s Bureau and supplied with teachers by the American Missionary Association (AMA), the Garrard County native dedicated himself to the cause of education and the betterment of conditions for the newly free.

The first African American trustee of Berea College held this position from 1868 to 1878, when at the age of 49, life presented a new calling. In Tennessee and Kentucky, thousands of frustrated African Americans were moving west to settle in Kansas. From correspondences in the Berea College archives, we know that Burdett, too, had become disenchanted with the slow progress of race relations in his home state and felt African Americans could fare better out west.

“And so I go on as the pillar of cloud moves on,” he wrote to a minister at the AMA, who would sponsor his exodus to Kansas.

One can gather from Kansas newspapers that Rev. Burdett made a name himself there, not only as a preacher but as a politician. He left the Republican Party and joined with a more progressive group that favored women’s suffrage and supported labor movements. In 1888, Kansas prohibitionists nominated Burdett for state auditor. The Dodge City Times wrote that Burdett was “an able speaker, being witty and forcible. After his nomination he was called upon for a speech, and was conducted to the platform by a former slave owner. Such a thing has probably never occurred in any other party convention and probably never will.”

There’s more to Burdett’s story than I have space for. I wanted to tell you at least some of it, not just because it is Black History Month, but because here we have a remarkable person from our area—a pastor, a soldier, a missionary, an educator, a leader—and likely you have never heard of him. Sources online list Burdett as an “associate” of John Fee. But clearly he was more than that—he was a partner working toward the same goals. Yet, even in the annals of Berea College, an institution devoted to interracial community and education, he has not been given the prominence he deserves.

White privilege can be subtle that way. It’s not just who has advantages in society and who does not. It can also be who is left out of our storytelling. We hear the Freedmen’s Bell ring most mornings at 10:00 to commemorate the many Kentucky victims of COVID-19, and it can also remind us that the first interracial college in the South had Black heroes as well as white ones. Remembering Gabriel Burdett is one small way of evening the scales of attention.

Berea College Farm Celebrates 150 Years

Berea College Farm StoreThe Berea College Farm began as a garden and a few dairy cows in 1871. Today, it stretches across 500 acres and includes beef cattle, hogs, poultry, field crops, horticulture crops, and honey bees. All year long, Berea will be celebrating our sesquicentennial—the 150th anniversary—of one of the nation’s oldest continuously operating educational farms.

In the early days, the Farm provided food for boarding houses and work for students. Over time, it became a place to demonstrate the latest farming techniques and a field of learning for students of various majors, but especially agriculture and natural resource students. Today, the Farm continues to be a resource to the region and offers students practical opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom. This includes the recently established Berea College Farm Store, where our students apply lessons in marketing and value-added food processing.

The Farm’s longevity is special, but it has not come without challenges. Each generation of College farmers have navigated the limitations of the land and the fluctuations of the market. What makes the College Farm unique is that each challenge, and sometimes failure, became an opportunity to learn. Students learned to adapt the Farm to adversity, experiment with new techniques, and in doing so took knowledge with them out into the region.

The Farm’s present and future being driven by students also make it unique and special. In the late 1990s, when students became concernedHogs in mud about industrial-scale farming, the College Farm transitioned to raising certified organic crops. Students also led the transition from feedlot-finishing of cattle to grass finishing and ended the practice of hog confinement. Students, working just 10 to 15 hours per week, ensure our honey bees are pesticide-free.

Our students learn all aspects of Farm operations, from feeding animals and weeding gardens to more complex challenges like analyzing and adjusting crop rotations and testing new ideas with research projects. In that sense, not only is the Farm a learning laboratory for students that instills an uncommon work ethic within them, it also becomes a place to demonstrate new ideas. We take these ideas into the community through partnerships with area organizations such as Madison County Cooperative Extension, the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Most recently, the horticulture operation, managed by Janet Meyer, hosted a virtual field day with the Organic Association of Kentucky. This is in addition to hosting school groups and regional Future Farmers of America chapters—before the pandemic.

Green HouseThe Berea College Farm will continue in its primary role as a learning laboratory where students, staff and faculty test, evaluate and demonstrate a variety of farming methods. It will also maintain its focus on improving and developing sustainable and appropriate agriculture for the region. The recent advent of large-scale greenhouse facilities in our area by AppHarvest represents interesting possibilities for scholarly interactions and collaboration, and we look forward to such opportunities.

This year we will be celebrating 150 years of a truly unique and special farm operation, much of it virtually. Be on the lookout for virtual farm tours and alumni happy hours, as well as special merchandise that will be available through the Farm Store’s online ordering form. May the next 150 years of the Farm be as “fruitful” as the last.

Reopening with Choice Was a Success

The following first appeared in the Richmond Register on 11/14. 

Lyle Roelofs

Berea College President Lyle Roelofs

In August, Berea College enacted a number of new policies for students, faculty and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am happy to report that the measures we took to ensure everyone’s safety while continuing our educational mission have been a success.  Students are graduating, we’ve had only a handful of positive cases, and our community has shown great resilience.

Our students and employees have cooperated well with a rigorous set of rules designed to limit the possibilities both of introducing the contagion into campus and it being passed around. We made extensive physical modifications of spaces to ensure safety in classrooms and other gathering places, and we have conducted scheduled testing for both on-campus students and employees.

Faculty were given the choice to teach courses in person or online, and the result was about 62 percent of courses offered this semester were taught online. Faculty were creative in making adjustments to succeed in their learning goals as the format changed for many courses. One painting course, for example, was taught in person but mostly outside.

Consistent with Gov. Andy Beshear’s Healthy at Work guidance, all employees who are able to work remotely are doing so. One-third of our staff is working fully remotely, one-third is working on campus, and one-third is working a mixture of on campus and remotely.

Taking these steps has successfully limited transmission of COVID-19. To date we have had only three cases among in-person students, all of which seem to have been due to travel off campus. There have been considerably more positive tests for students doing remote learning, but we do not have accurate statistics there because not all students report cases. Both for in-person and remote-learning students we do not know of any cases of serious illness.

We did have an unfortunate outbreak in the Child Development Laboratory, our on-campus day care center. This occurred after operating safely for four months, but it necessitated a three-week closure of the facility. The CDL re-opened on Nov. 2, and we hope to be able to continue operations there without further incident.

For employees, we have had more cases because they have to live outside the campus bubble. A number of these cases were detected through our scheduled testing program. Every employee and student had to have a negative test to start the semester, and we have been doing scheduled testing of on-campus employees and students throughout the semester. Our test-positivity rate for employees is 2 percent, and for students it is virtually zero. For employee cases, aside from the CDL situation, there has been no transmission on campus, thanks to rigorous contact tracing.

In general, life on campus has continued virtually. Our wonderful convocation program, for example, was conducted entirely online, and the customary high quality of the presentations has been maintained. Athletics was postponed for the fall, but we expect to resume in the spring semester, with men’s and women’s basketball commencing around mid-January and all other sports occurring with shortened seasons and reduced travel.

In total, 1,367 students have been able to continue their education this semester, 797 in person and 569 remotely. I am proud to say that 64 students will have satisfied the requirements for graduation at the end of the current term.

While we hope never to need to take advantage in the future of all we have learned in dealing with COVID-19, it has been a powerful learning experience for our community.  Thanks to the contributions of many, we have proven resilient. We look forward to next semester, when we will again re-open with choice.

Making Better Citizens Through the Liberal Arts and Labor

The Labor Program at Berea College was born of necessity. The students the College served in the mid-19th century—freed people of color and low-wealth Appalachians—meant that if they wanted to come to school they had to work.  Until the College began the practice of employing all of its students in the 1890s, most students regularly had to interrupt their studies to earn more money for fees and living expenses.  (Already then Berea College did not charge tuition!) Over the intervening decades, what started off as a necessity has become a key component of the Berea College learning experience.  We have come to understand how work and school synergize to create better employees and citizens.

Work by itself has value. In addition to the practical skills one picks up for doing a specific job, there are other soft skills, too. Skills such as work ethic, time management, organization and responsibility enable a person not just to do a job, but to be a good employee.

Biology lab  A liberal arts education works in much the same way. But in addition to learning to be a good employee, a liberal arts education teaches students how to be good humans. They pick up additional soft skills that are crucial for living in a complex, human-centered world. Critical thinking allows the liberal arts student to thrive in difficult situations. The ability to speak and write to get one’s ideas across clearly is vital in a democratic society. And learning to think across disciplines and contexts makes the liberal arts student nimble and quick to offer solutions from a new perspective.

There is a special magic that happens, though, when a good education is married with work experience. At Berea College, we hire every student to support campus operations. Much like in the world outside, our students work their way up to positions with more responsibility and more relevance to their career aspirations. The art history major may begin her academic career mowing our beautiful lawns and finish by managing the art gallery. Managing the art gallery has obvious applications of learning, but what about mowing the lawn?

The beauty of mowing the lawn in a liberal arts context is that it no longer is just mowing the lawn. Our students work and learn. When Students with lawnmowersthey’ve finished studying American colonialism, or sustainable agriculture, or energy markets, they hop on the mower to think about lawns, the culture that produced them, the amount of petroleum required to run a mower, the complex systems that created the mower, why you should let the dandelions grow—and the art history major’s place within it all.

No labor is mindless that exists in this context. Our future labor lawyers put on an apron at Mountaineer Dining Hall and learn the dignity of a hard day’s work while thinking about labor practices—what’s fair, what’s not and what should be done about it. Through the Entrepreneurship for the Public Good Program, our future business persons spend summers working in startups and communities in our region looking for new opportunities.

We doStudent with apples in diningn’t just make entrepreneurs. We make better entrepreneurs by giving them a liberal arts background and opportunities to apply their lessons through work. And when they leave Berea, they go forth into the world ready not only to contribute to their local business climate, but also to attend to the broader context in which those businesses operate.


Fighting to realize a century-old vision

Black Lives Matter March for Solidarity“God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” This verse from the book of Acts is not only the Berea College motto, it is a way of understanding our relationship to humanity. It says that no matter our differences, we have a shared kinship. The Reverend John G. Fee and the founders of Berea College believed in this kinship when they set out to educate poor whites, formerly enslaved Blacks and women together in the foothills of Appalachia in 1855. More than 160 years later, recent headlines make it clear that our society has yet to embrace the idea that we are all kin.

In late May of this year, anti-police brutality protests erupted around the world after video emerged of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling for nearly nine minutes on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, resulting in his death. Closer to home, just two hours away in Louisville, a young Black woman was killed in March when police broke down the door of her apartment and shot her eight times. All of this happened against the backdrop of a global pandemic that is claiming the lives of Blacks, Latinx and Native Americans at a rate four to five times higher than other populations, renewing calls for an end to these systemic injustices: racialized policing, differential access to adequate medical care and housing, inequitable economic well-being, etc.

These events led Berea College to affirm our support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and to join the many calls for an end to police brutality against Black people. In doing so, we also pledged to do more within the campus community to uphold our Fifth Great Commitment, “to assert the kinship of all people and to provide interracial education with a particular emphasis on racial healing and equity among Blacks and whites as a foundational gateway toward understanding and equality among all peoples of the earth.”

It was heartening that on July 11, Berea College students, faculty, staff and young alumni led a march in solidarity with the movement through the city and campus. Harkening back to 1965, when Berea community members participated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., they displayed the same sign with the College motto as they moved through town. It is simultaneously disheartening that the same message, that Black lives matter, still needs to be repeated today, more than 50 years later.

The breadth of this movement has brought renewed attention and urgency to racial justice, and we pray that the winds of change blowing throughout the nation move us further along Dr. King’s arc of the moral universe toward justice. Indeed, cultural imagery, corporate icons and police protocols are being reviewed, removed and reimagined. These are positive, though not always popular, developments on the road toward equality and equity for all.

The fight for a world shaped by the power of love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice is far from over. The names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among too many others, should forever reside in our conscience as we move forward. Perhaps 50 years from now, but preferably much sooner, we won’t have to remind society again that, indeed, Black lives matter.

Bereans Respond to COVID-19

Covid-19, Retirement Accounts, and Black Swans: One Economist’s Perspective

Nancy SowersDuring the COVID-19 Pandemic, many in the Berea College community submitted their unique perspectives on the situation to President Roelofs to share with campus. The following is the next in a series appearing here at Berea Beloved. 

By Nancy Sowers, Associate Professor of Finance

Stock markets really started to roil while our Berea community was on spring break.  From February 28 to March 20, the S&P 500 (a common index for measuring the market performance overall) decreased 21.98%.  Of course on an individual level the most important thing is our health and physical safety, but it is likely that some are looking at their retirement accounts right now with a great deal of anxiety.  The standard professional heuristic is to remember your long term plan, to sit tight and stay calm, that the average recovery period is about 24 months from a downturn.  That this advice falls flat is understandable as you watch one metric for “all you have worked for” drop precipitously.

The stock market acts as a leading indicator for the economy overall, which means that it typically tells us what will happen to the economy about six months ahead.  But what we are seeing now is a black swan event.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb teaches us that a black swan event is “highly improbable with massive consequences.”  Covid-19 appears to be the perfect example of this and, unfortunately, our financial models neither anticipate such events nor handle the effects well.  As market shock turns to economic shock, we are all watching the economic situation unfold for the people we love, the friends we care about, and the students we have helped to develop over four years.

The silver lining here is that the Federal Reserve is moving more quickly with more tools than ever before to assure liquidity in the markets today.  American ingenuity will rise as firms adjust their production to meet the shortfall of supplies so desperately needed in our hospitals.  Toyota is donating industrial grade respirators; Hanes will make masks instead of underwear; our distilleries will shift to making hand sanitizer instead of bourbon.  Volatility will play into the recovery too.  Keep in mind that the people that cashed out their retirements in the last market downturn missed 6 of the 10 best days of market recovery and the start to a strong decade of market growth (PlanPILOT).  The market on Tuesday (03/24/20) supports the idea that when the market does come back, the rebound is likely to catch us by surprise too.

Spiritual Perspectives on Disease and Suffering

Chapel candlesDuring the COVID-19 Pandemic, many in the Berea College community submitted their unique perspectives on the situation to President Roelofs to share with campus. The following is the next in a series appearing here at Berea Beloved. 

Spiritual Perspectives on Disease and Suffering

By Dr. Jeff B. Pool Chairperson, Department of Religion, Eli Lilly Chair in Religion and Culture, and Professor of Religion

Various religions and other spiritualities offer numerous explanations for the realities of illness, pain, suffering, and death, as well as ways in which to respond to those realities.  Because traditions in all religious and spiritual communities contain many diverse and sometimes even conflicting layers, some layers of traditions offer greater wisdom for life and its challenges than other layers.  Some representatives of theistic traditions have described viruses as “evil” and illnesses as “judgments” from God on specific groups of people for their “sins,” which then have produced corresponding judgments on those groups of people as the sources of the problems for which God purportedly has inflicted illness, suffering, and death on humanity at large.  Other representatives of the same theistic traditions, however, have interpreted such human health-crises differently: understanding viruses, as well as other natural threats to human life, as part of the larger world that God has created; describing illnesses and diseases as the natural interactive conflicts among creatures that endeavor in their own ways to survive and to propagate themselves (a tragic reality, understood as the conflict among various goods, rather than “evil” in opposition to the anthropocentrically-defined “supreme good” of human life); and, as a result, encouraging sharply different forms of human responses to such challenges to human life.

At their best, the diverse traditions of religious communities and other spiritual traditions regard such multi-dimensional health-crises for human life as genuine opportunities for both personal and social transformation.  For numerous spiritualities, such critical situations guide and encourage people both to discern that which they can control in order to work toward change and to release their attachments to that which they cannot control in order to consent to that which they cannot change.  Various layers of Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and many other spiritual traditions teach that such challenges to life offer possibilities for deepening human character, for either instilling or reinforcing important human virtues: gratitude for all that each person has received, understanding life itself as gift; trust in the meaningfulness of life, despite the challenges that inevitably arise; equanimity and peacefulness in the midst of turmoil and chaos; humility; compassion for all creatures; an attitude of non-judgment toward other people; a passion for social justice and reciprocity in a profoundly interdependent world; generosity toward and hospitality for people in dire circumstances; and even joy in the experiences of both severe suffering and grief over losses that result from that suffering.

Many of the same religions and other spiritual traditions also develop practices through which to develop human character: meditative techniques, physical exercises, contemplation, and prayer, among many other methods.  For example, in the current global crisis, people might view very differently even the supposedly restrictive measures that various levels of society have prudently imposed on or recommended to communities and individuals in order to address this health-crisis.  Rather than construing such measures (“social-distancing,” sequestering, even meticulous “hand-washing”) as limitations on human freedoms or “rights,” people might understand the practice of such measures as practical exercises, even as rituals or prayers, to develop the virtues that will shape their character and that will enable them to contribute to changing the world as they now experience it.