Top 10 Things We’re Thankful for This Year

From national awards and rankings to national press coverage, Berea College has enjoyed a banner year. Here’s a list of accolades and accomplishments we’re thankful for and proud of. Our success is due to a beloved community working toward a better future we hope one day is available to all. Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) presented Berea College with the 2019 Outstanding Service to Environmental Education award.
    Berea College forester providing information to visitors of the Forestry Outreach Center
  2. The Richmond-Madison County branch of the NAACP honored Berea College at the annual Freedom Fund Banquet.
    Group of award recipients at the NAACP Freedom Banquet
  3. Berea College was featured on CNN in a major documentary created by Fareed Zakaria. Watch below.
  4. Berea College was also featured in an NPR special report recently. Listen online.
  5. Berea’s Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS) collected 774 bags of food for the local food pantry through their annual Hunger Hurts Food Drive.
    Hunger Hurts paper bags
  6. The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranked Berea College the No. 1 Best Value College in the nation in their 2020 College Rankings.
    Student reading an issue of the Wall Street Journal
  7. Berea gained the No. 1 spot in the nation for campus engagement in the 2019 Sustainable Campus Index.
  8. Washington Monthly named Berea College the “Best Bang for the Buck” and a top five liberal arts college.
  9. Using the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rate (we have enjoyed 5 years of 100% of our graduates passing the exam on their first taking) and net-price of nursing schools to formulate its rankings, Nursing Explorer named the Berea College Nursing program as the best in Kentucky.
    Berea College student nurses
  10. The newly built Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building was awarded LEED gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and full project certification by the Forest Stewardship Council.
    MAC Building

A Full Community at Berea Students’ Fingertips

This editorial originally appeared in the Richmond Register on October 19, 2019. 

Imagine a high school senior. Let’s call her Emily. Imagine she is smart, talented, and hard working. Her mom is not in the picture. Her dad works second shift, and she works, too, when she’s not caring for her younger siblings. Emily makes sure they are fed and safe, and she reads to them at bedtime. She also has homework to do and needs to prepare for college entrance exams, even though she’s not so sure college is really an option. She has financial aid documents to fill out, but isn’t sure how to answer the questions on the form.

At 17, she doesn’t even know what, exactly, she wants to do with her life or how to achieve it. Emily needs help to get where she wants to go, but she doesn’t know where to look for it.

Helping students like Emily and their families is the idea behind new programming at Berea Independent Schools, funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant awarded to Partners for Education (PFE) at Berea College. PFE secured funding for the school system to become a Full-Service Community School. The funding allows Berea Independent to offer a suite of comprehensive services to students and their families from kindergarten through high school graduation.

In addition to offering support in literacy, attendance, and college and career planning, the program partners with local organizations and businesses like the Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union to help students and families with financial literacy and with White House Clinics to assist in accessing quality healthcare. The program can help Emily prepare for entrance exams, fill out her financial aid applications, and even set her up with an internship at a local company to help her explore career options and interests.

In short, the Full-Service Community School grant takes a very broad approach to meeting the needs of disadvantaged students and their families, helping them overcome obstacles that are typically not an issue for wealthier families.

This kind of work isn’t new to Berea College. In 1917, for example, Berea College librarians traveled by horse and buggy throughout Appalachia delivering boxes of school books to aspiring young students who dreamed of an education. This new grant is the latest addition to Berea College’s commitment to support education in the region.

At Berea College, we know it’s not enough to simply open a door. Not everyone is ready to go through it, and some may need extra encouragement to do so. It’s not even enough to open just one door. Opportunity means having a choice of doors, the freedom to come back through again and, if necessary, try a different one.

With this new grant, Berea College hopes to help maximize the full resources of our entire community for students who we hope will, in turn, become conscientious citizens ready to return the favor to a new generation of young people.

Families and Schools Together

Kat Reid works with Daeus Reid

Families and Schools Together

Michelle Ramsey eats with Rose and Graham Ramsay

Families and Schools Together

Brandon Denning and Kodi Mullins work with Aria Mullins

Families and Schools Together

Carmie Baxter works with Holden Blanton

Families and Schools Together

Jodi Mullins works with Penelope Ruth in the Families and Schools Together program from Partners for Education

The Value of Free

Dr. Lyle Roelofs headshot[This post is adapted from a column that appeared in the Richmond Register on September 21, 2019.  Bereans reading it will already be familiar with some of its points and themes.]

Recently, the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education named Berea College the No. 1 “best value” college in the nation. With Berea’s no-tuition promise, the ranking seems sort of obvious, but the true value of “tuition-free” is worthy of further comment.

If student debt is any indicator, free is worth a great deal!  This year, student loan debt topped $1.5 trillion, second only to mortgage debt. Defaults on this debt are also at record levels.  We can take a number of things from this staggering number. One, there is a lot of perceived value in education so students and families are willing to take on debt to better themselves through education. Another is that the cost of getting an education has become tremendously burdensome for the typical American family.  This debt has real impact on the people who hold it—people you and I know and love. Student loan debt means young people often must delay buying a home and cannot be full participants in the national economy. The MBA degree or other further study that a person might need to get a better job might have to be deferred, too.

The burden of debt has an even larger impact on low-income and first-generation students. They know that education is the key to moving up financially and socially, but find themselves in a tough predicament. A scholarship isn’t always enough because tuition isn’t the only barrier. For them, going to college means delaying a paycheck that could help those they love and having to take out loans makes that choice even tougher.

These burdens and our mission of providing transformative opportunity to students who cannot afford it are why Berea College has not charged tuition for more than 100 years.  But, just like freedom, a no-tuition college education isn’t really free.  Berea College must still spend a lot of money to be able to offer a high-quality educational experience for every student.  What makes it work?

Every Berea student works a campus jobs to lower the cost for everyone, while also gaining the real-world work experience that employers value.

Our donors, many of whom are alumni, step up to fund the difference.

And with all that generosity students gain access to paid internships in the summer, a fund for professional clothing, and a robust academic support system. Most importantly, there is little or nothing to repay as they start their lives after college. Forty-nine percent of Berea graduates in 2018-19 completed their degree with no debt. Those students who graduated with debt owed an average of $6,693 – far below the national average of nearly $33,000.

It seems to be working. Nationally, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation college students graduate from college, yet up to two-thirds of the Berea College graduating class each year is first-generation.  We don’t achieve that just by giving away tuition.  We enable our students to succeed by offering the kind of support wealthier students pay for at other schools.

We believe the Berea model could be applied on a larger scale.  A tuition-free education still costs money, but it is past time to have a national conversation that acknowledges the value of a college education for many students and addresses the prohibitive costs of obtaining one. That conversation can start with the Berea model.

 

Queridas/os/xs Bereanas/os/xs* (Dear Bereans) :

This month, we invited Dr. Gwendolyn Ferreti and Ms. Alondra Barrera García to speak to the campus community. 

Warm greetings in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. President Roelofs has graciously invited us to write a guest entry for his blog. We are proud to recognize Latina/o/x and Latin American heritage and culture in the United States this month. Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15-October 15. Its formal observation began in 1968 under the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson as a week-long commemoration and was expanded to cover a 30-day period by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Its inception coincided with the rise of social activism in the 1960s, such as that of the Chicana/o Movement, which pushed to gain full social, cultural, educational, and political recognition for Chicano (Mexican-descent) communities in the Western and Southwestern regions of the United States. This movement came along with other ethnic, identity and social justice movements such as the fight for Civil Rights of Black people, Indigenous people and people of color, the Black Liberation Movement, the Women’s liberation movement, and more.

While Latinx people recognize the hard-fought legacy of this month-long celebration, the name of the celebration is fraught with debate. For many, “Hispanic Heritage” month reduces the recognition of Chicanx and Latinx communities in the US and Puerto Rico by tying us to a history of conquest by Iberian Spanish colonizers. As Latinx communities grow throughout the US (especially in the Appalachian and U.S. Southern regions), it is vital that we recognize our richness as a diverse group of people that include many racialized and ethnic groups including Afro-Latinx, hundreds of Indigenous groups, mestizos, and Whites/Euro-descendants; a wide range of sexual orientations and gender expressions; a wide breadth of religious and spiritual expressions; many different language speakers; and many national groups.

At this time, Latinx and immigrant communities in the US are facing increasing hostility. These hostilities have escalated to horrendous acts, such as the White Supremacist mass shooting that targeted Latinx and immigrants in El Paso on August 3, 2019. At the same time, the country faces deep questions about its commitment to immigrant communities, especially Latinx immigrants. Central American refugees, including children, are currently being detained en masse as they travel to the US to apply for political asylum. Latinx immigrant communities in the South and Appalachian region are also increasingly subjected to massive raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as those conducted at workplaces in Tennessee in April 2018 and in Mississippi August 2019. It is crucial, then, that we honor our historic and continued existence in this country to counter the ways in which our communities are being terrorized and erased. Celebrating and honoring Latinx culture and heritage is essential to counter the hate, racism, and xenophobia we face.

Today, Berea College continues to grow its commitment to Latinx students and the broader Latinx community. Many of Berea College’s faculty and staff teach, mentor, and serve Berea’s Latinx students. Latinx students have also taken on tremendous campus leadership through the Hispanic Outreach Program (HOP) which serves the broader Latinx community in Madison County as well as through groups such as the Latin American Student Association (LASA) who advocate for students and organize events like last year’s Latinx Empowerment: Rising Up Mini-Conference. We are looking forward to supporting and growing these efforts and are already celebrating success! This month, we organized a Latinx Student Reception and have taken up the work to open the Espacio Cultural Latinx (the Latinx Cultural Space) which was inaugurated at the end of the Spring 2019 term in response to students’ advocacy. We are also working to develop more Latinx Studies courses, programming, and will continue to support and mentor Latinx students in the years to come. We believe that Latinx studies and resources will become a lasting part of the College’s rich history of interracial co-education and will add to the College’s investment in equity, diversity, and inclusion through its Great Commitment to provide educational opportunity for students of all races, primarily from Appalachia, who have great promise and limited economic resources.

In the meantime, we encourage you to come visit us, say hello, and chat. ¡Muchas gracias (thank you very much)!

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn Ferreti and Alondra Barrera García

 

*We recognize that traditional Spanish grammar dictates that the word “Latinos” technically encompasses both males and females. However, this practice prioritizes the masculine form to be representative of all bodies and excludes those who fall outside of the gender binary. The practice of using the “x” is a conscious choice to be fully inclusive of all gender identities and expressions. The use of an “x” does not preclude a/o, but rather specifically recognizes and gives respect to gender non-conforming and non-binary people and cis-gendered/trans persons who identify as male and female. A parallel usage of gender-neutral language that is more popular in South America is “Latine.”

About us:

Dr. Gwendolyn Ferreti

Dr. Gwendolyn Ferreti

Dr. Gwendolyn Ferreti is a specialist in Latinx studies and critical migration studies and joined Berea College this Fall as the new Assistant Professor of Latinx Studies. She is housed in the Peace and Social Justice Studies Department, is also the campus’s DACA Coordinator, and teaches a freshman course as a part of Berea’s Male Initiative.

 

 

 

 

 

Alondra Barrera Garcia

Alondra Barrera García

Ms. Alondra Barrera García is currently the AmeriCorps VISTA Latinx Outreach Coordinator. A recent graduate (May’19), she is proud to work to build capacity for the campus’ growing Latinx community. She has a BS in agriculture and a BA in Peace and Social Justice and has focused her studies on exploring Latinx immigrant experiences. 

Welcome to Your New College Family

At the beginning of every academic year, new Berea College students and their families attend our Ceremony of Dedication, where parents send off their children to a new, exciting chapter of their lives. In our parting ceremony, incoming first-year students walk away from their parents and through the Berea College poles over to faculty waiting to cheer them on in welcome. It’s one of my favorite events because this is where you get to see up close the emotion of the moment, the tears of pride, of joy, and the twinges of sadness that come with a rite of passage steeped in love and hope for the future. Here are some photos from this weekend’s ceremony that capture these moments beautifully.

   

President Roelofs’s Tips for First-Year Students 2019

Lyle Roelofs

Berea College President Lyle Roelofs

Starting college can be challenging, stressful, and confusing. Here are some tips for making your time at Berea a success.

  1. Trade phone numbers or Facebook Messenger information with someone from each of your classes. That way, you have a friend to help if you miss something or are confused.  And make sure you’re there to help them, when they need it!
  2. Get to know your professors and labor supervisors. The more you reach out to them, the more helpful they can be to you, and they want to be!
  3. Set aside time every day to take care of yourself—listen to music, go for a walk, talk to your friends, whatever works best for you.  (I run three times a week—hope you’ll consider joining me—and do a hard Sudoku puzzle every morning.)  Avoid toxic self-indulgences; you know what yours are!
  4. Check your emails, respond to them and keep them organized. Email is the primary method professors and labor supervisors use to contact students.  You’ll also get a monthly President’s Report from yours truly.
  5. Treat every labor position with dignity.  Your comfort and success here depend crucially on the work that other students do and theirs on yours!
  6. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed; college is much more challenging than high school. If you’re struggling with something, it may not be a good strategy to just try harder.  (Remember the definition-in-jest of insanity: trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.)  Instead you should reach out to your teachers, fellow students, labor supervisors, or counseling services. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed at Berea!
  7. We will get some inclement weather, so make good plans.  Invest in a good umbrella and/or other rain gear. Berea gets plenty of rain and you won’t want to get soaked going and coming from classes, work, events, etc.  We will also get some cold, maybe even snowy weather in the winter—you’ll need a winter coat and hat and gloves or mittens.  Walmart has an affordable selection.
  8. Expect to encounter very different perspectives from your own in convocations, classes, and conversations with your friends.  Learn from those differences; approach everything with an open mind; learn both how to incorporate those alternative perspectives into your thinking and how to better and more persuasively articulate your own deeply held convictions.
  9. Be prepared to interrogate yourself.  If something is going wrong, play the “But why?” game. Bombed the test, did you? But why? Because you didn’t study enough. But why? Because you were too tired. But why? Because you are sleep deprived. But why? Because you stay up too late? But why? I cannot stop playing Fortnite.  Then, be intentional and do something about it!
  10. Don’t forget all the great activities that are available as part of the college experience: from athletics to debate team, from SGA to the music ensembles, from HVZ to TGIF, from intramurals to Kinetic Expressions; but don’t spread yourself too thin by getting involved in too many things.  They should complement your academic success, not get in its way.
  11. Read (or reread) the Great Commitments.  You’ll be amazed and inspired.

Images from the 2019 Berea College Commencement and Baccalaureate

This past weekend, we ushered the Class of 2019 into the next phase of their lives. Commencement is always a joyous and emotional experience, and I’ve selected a number of photos that I hope reflect the totality of the day, starting with the Nurse’s Pinning Ceremony, the Baccalaureate service, Commencement itself, featuring processions, music, awards and addresses, and finally the party on the Quad.  Through it all the joy and emotion of the students emerges.

Every year, after the students have worked so hard and accomplished so much, and after so many fine Bereans have also worked so hard with them throughout their time at Berea, I am proud and deeply honored to present the students with their diplomas.  (I also want to mention that at least 50 wonderful Berea College employees work very hard to make sure the whole day turns out just the way we want it to.  Our heartfelt thanks to all of them, too.)

My hope is that all of our new alumni follow their passions, find success in whatever they do, and stay in touch with us. Congratulations to all!

The Joy of Commencement

Faculty and Labor Supervisors welcome and encourage the processing graduates

Five Lessons about Appalachia and Berea’s Eighth Great Commitment

Chad Berry photoDr. Chad Berry, academic vice president and dean of the faculty, spoke on this topic at a recent conference held at Berea. The following is a guest post adapted from that presentation. 

 Lesson 1: Appalachia is the country’s most misunderstood region.

Heavily stereotyped because of America’s cultural history, people from Appalachia bristle at perceptions of so-called “hillbillies” who are backward or stupid. These perceptions are conveyed pervasively through novels, reality-TV shows, movies, and even popular, romantic assertions that an Appalachian accent is a long-lost Shakespearean dialect preserved through isolation from “modern” American life.

Just as no child is born racist, no child is born thinking these things about people from Appalachia. If they can be learned, they can be unlearned.

Lesson 2:  You may think of Appalachia as poor. But it was not born poor; it was made poor. 

The region and its people are not poor because of some innate defect. They were made poor by an unjust economic system in which human beings were not beneficiaries of economic activity, but rather just another exploitable ingredient. Extractive economies worldwide are often characterized by poor people living amid rich natural resources.  Central Appalachia is no exception, and its residents are still paying a high price for a mono-economy based on extraction that is now in decline. The region and its people need more sustainable economic development centered around diversity and justice.

Lesson 3: “Appalachia” is a social and cultural construct.  How and when it was constructed still influences the way we think of the region and its people today. 

“Appalachia” as an idea didn’t exist until the late 19th century, when powerful elites created, invented, defined, and labeled the area that came to be known as Appalachia.  Sometimes abetting the economic interests that moved in to exploit the resources of the region and its population while other times resisting those interests, these powerful elites included educators, doctors, missionaries, ministers, and novelists. Those constructed viewpoints still dominate national perceptions about the region, and as a consequence, we still think of the region as the No.-1 place of rural American poverty.

Lesson 4: “Appalachia” serves a particular function in the U.S.  If Appalachia hadn’t been constructed, another region would likely have been created to take its place.

In the more than 50 countries I’ve visited, all had their own version of Appalachia. For England, it’s Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. In Cuba, it is Pinar del Río. In France, Brittany, and in Ghana, the northern region. One scholar suggests that U.S. culture creates an image of Appalachia out of nostalgia for the past and fear of the future. The result is a viewpoint of the region that is sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but always stereotypical. People may lament the loss of the old ways through buying a commodified piece of traditional Appalachian culture like a quilt or a basket and wishing they could be more like the artisan that made these items. At the same time, they might travel through the poorest parts of eastern Kentucky, remembering movies like Deliverance or Wrong Turn, quietly feeling relief for not having to live like those people, not realizing, all the while, how much more dynamic, resilient, and complex are those cultures than they have been conditioned to believe.

East Pinnacle

Berea College students enjoy the morning view from the east Pinnacle.

Lesson 5: Unlearn what you think you know. 

Yes, there are challenges in the mountains. At Berea College, we acknowledge the challenges, but we also emphasize the region’s assets. The Eighth Great Commitment of Berea College is “To engage Appalachian communities, families, and students in partnership for mutual learning, growth, and service.”

Appalachian communities, families, and students are assets, not challenges. They hold wisdom and local knowledge, and we can learn deeply right in the place we serve. The aim is to listen to local voices, aspire to mutually beneficial relationships, and to work for significant changes in the systems and structures—laws, behaviors, attitudes, policies, and institutions—that make a difference to people and their communities in Appalachia and beyond. We are not here to fix the region or its people. Instead, the Eighth Commitment moves us to invest in the skill sets and self-confidence people need to improve their lives and act collectively to increase opportunity for themselves and their communities.

—Dr. Chad Berry has served as Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty since ­­2011. Formerly the director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center and president of the Appalachian Studies Association, Dr. Berry has authored, edited, or co-edited four books—one of which won the 2015 Weatherford Award for nonfiction. 

Matilda Fee and Elizabeth Rogers: Heroines of the Berea Story

In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to retell the harrowing stories of Matilda Fee and Elizabeth Rogers, who joined their husbands on a dangerous interracial mission in slave-holding Madison County more than 164 years ago.

Photo of Matilda Fee

Matilda Fee

Matilda Hamilton Fee grew up in northern Kentucky, where she and her mother once served tea to a slave owner while an escaped slave hid in the basement. She may have been used to a certain level of danger, then, before she married the Reverend John G. Fee and joined his “covenant with God to preach in [their] native state the gospel of love, of justice, and of liberty,” and to found a school that would admit students regardless of color or gender.  Matilda, John, and three small children packed all their possessions in a two-horse wagon, and made the three-day journey into a wilderness that would become Berea.

In his writings, John describes Matilda as having a unique blend of qualities that supported the mission. It was “that affection, sympathy, courage, cheer, activity, frugality and endurance, which few could combine and which greatly sustained me in the dark and trying hours that attended most of our pathway.”

Much of what we know about Berea’s early days comes from the writings of Elizabeth Rogers, who along with the Fees, was one of Berea’s first teachers. Having grown up in privilege in Philadelphia, she was only eighteen when she joined her husband, John A. R. Rogers, on the journey to Berea, requiring travel by steamboat, train, stage coach, and livery carriage.

She writes to one of her children, “It was a rainy, March day, your father and I made our entrance into Berea. We stood on the hill, looking across through the trees at the little slab schoolhouse that was to be the beginning of Berea College. The unpainted schoolhouse with its broken windows hardly seemed a worthy field for my aesthetic, scholarly husband, but he saw the work with prophetic eye . . . On that drizzly afternoon, it needed a prophet’s eye to see in the most distant future, even a ray of hope. My vision was clouded, and the wet, drooping branches accorded with my spirit, and my heart was heavy. Once in the harness however, I never looked back, and entered upon the work with a zeal and enthusiasm second only to your father’s, and our work grew like magic.”

Elizabeth taught children at the school while J.A.R. instructed the older pupils.

By 1859, the area became dangerous for them. John Fee had gathered negative attention after an editorial passage calling for “more John Browns” was taken out of context, and the local planters believed Fee was calling for armed insurrection and slave rebellions. This is when conditions deteriorated, and talk of gathering mobs reached the Bereans.

Photo of Elizabeth Rogers

Elizabeth Rogers

“Daily we watched for what was to come,” Elizabeth wrote, “and we grew to fear the worst. The tension was terrible, and I believe I grew to wish the mob would

come, do their worst, and have it over….Yet all those days we never locked a door nor owned the simplest piece of firearms. We were a feeble few, entirely at the mercy of the mob when it should come.”

Though the men remained unarmed, Elizabeth took it upon herself to obtain at least some protection, keeping large sticks by her bed and “a syringe filled with a stinging chemical from her husband’s school cupboard.” (This was actually a diversion from the stores of the chemistry laboratory!)  She suggests in her writing that she knew this would accomplish little.

“I have the feeling that the mob, if they had ever come, would have gone away unmolested.”

The mob finally did come, two days before Christmas in 1859. While John Fee was away in Cincinnati, 62 armed and mounted men approached the Rogers’ door in a wedge formation. Elizabeth joined her husband at the door to meet them with “our little first-born clinging to my skirts.”

The men gave them 10 days to leave town. The Bereans appealed to Kentucky’s governor for protection, but he would only provide it if they left.

Matilda, without her husband, gathered up their children and joined the caravan of wagons for the journey. Elizabeth describes a treacherous journey made difficult by rains and melting snow.

“A drizzling rain was falling, the snow had melted, and everything was dreary without as our hearts within. One old man sat in an open wagon with his arm around his aged wife as if to shield her from every storm. Mrs. Fee with her carriage full of little children, a bride and a groom in another carriage, and these, with a few men on horseback and Mr. Davis and his family, and a great white covered wagon which carried our trunks, a lady or two, and waiting for me to climb into it with our babies, formed the crowd that was ‘a menace to Kentucky’s best interests’….I took my place under the rude shelter of the wagon, and the word came to move on.”

Though Matilda lost a son to the cold on that journey north, she was the first to return to Berea to live. In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Mrs. Fee, again without her husband, returned to Berea with her two older children in a buggy. The Union flag painted on the wagon enabled her to pass through where Union troops were stationed for the Battle of Richmond, which the Union ultimately lost. John was a day behind her, but as Matilda hid her horse and buggy in the woods so it would not be stolen on the day of battle, John and his 11-year-old son turned back. Again cool in the face of danger, Matilda hid her silverware in the eaves of the house and chatted with Confederate soldiers as they marched through town.

Without the bravery and stalwart contributions of women like Matilda Fee and Elizabeth Rogers, it seems unlikely that Berea College could ever have expanded beyond a “little slab schoolhouse” with broken windows.

Much of the information for this entry comes from Berea’s First 125 Years, by Elisabeth S. Peck and Emily Ann Smith, which tells the complete story of Berea’s founders. In the coming weeks, you can read more about the First Ladies of Berea College in the spring issue of Berea College magazine.

Berea College: A Place to Have Difficult Conversations about Race

As we observe Black History Month, I have reflected on Berea College’s unwavering commitment to interracial education, interrupted although it was by the segregation laws of the first half of the 20th century. Since the beginning, this institution has been a place devoted to racial justice and a place that does not shy away from difficult conversations about race.

In July 1872, the Berea College Board of Trustees, led by founder Reverend John G. Fee, President Henry Fairchild, and J.A.R Rogers, Berea’s first teacher, honored the faculty’s request to discuss the topic of “social intimacy between white and colored students at the institution.”

The minutes of the meeting are light on detail, but suggest that faculty and trustees debated at length, with one faculty member offering his resignation. By the end of the contentious meeting, the Board resolved that white and African American students should not be prohibited from seeing or marrying each other. The resolution came with the caveat that the couples must be privately warned of the dangers that “would not arise in a different state of society” and that they must be discreet because of those dangers.

No doubt the state of society was more dangerous for students of color than for white students at the time, just seven years after the end of the Civil War. Over 146 years later, in what is certainly a different state of society, such discretion is not required or even suggested, but that does not mean dangers do not still exist for African Americans, in Berea and elsewhere. And we must talk about these issues. We must talk about how people of color still endure racial epithets hurled at them from cars passing through campus. We must talk about how white privilege means others never have to experience this. And if we are to prepare the next generation for creating meaningful change in the world, we must talk about how systemic racism smooths the way for some and not for others.

TRUTH Talks Flier There is much I am proud of here at Berea College, but I am especially proud that this institution continually seeks to address inequality, improve operations, and does not shy away from uncomfortable conversations. These are not easy issues to talk about, but they are very important issues to shine light upon. Recent events provoking national discussion of blackface, use of force by the police, and the open resurgence of hate groups that only seemed to have been driven into the shadows bring into stark relief how far we have yet to go in terms of race relations. If it still has to be explained why blackface is hurtful to African Americans or why we should care about people of color being disproportionately imprisoned or targeted by law enforcement because of their race, then we are certainly far away from where we need to be as a society. And the “arc of the moral universe” will only “bend toward justice” if we expose matters like these to the searching light of our collective attention.

An example of where these discussions take place at Berea is the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, which hosts the True Racial Understanding through Honest (T.R.U.T.H.) Talks. Here, the entire campus can have frank discussions on not only race, but also gender and sexuality, and other topics related to marginalized groups. The T.R.U.T.H. Talks even allow participants to use modern technology to ask questions anonymously, questions people are often afraid to ask. In that space, members of the campus community ask those difficult questions, get answers and engage in challenging but enlightening conversations. In short, it is a safe place to talk about hard things. The ultimate hope is that we can foster greater understanding and affection among and between all members of our campus community.

The issues of 2019 “would not arise in a different state of society,” a state of society we aim to make a reality through frank and honest discussion and the continuance of College policies that encourage diversity among the student body, faculty and staff. I am proud of our efforts and look forward to improving more and more over time. The July 2, 1872 Board of Trustees resolution on interracial romance is printed below for reference. It is not perfect by today’s standards, but it stands as testament to Berea’s devotion to racial justice from the beginning.

We agree:

  1. That persons of opposite races and sexes should not be universally prohibited from attending each other to and from social gatherings and public lectures.
  2. That if no obstacle but simply that of complexion exists they should have permission.
  3. That if in our judgment their going together would expose them to violence, they should be prohibited.
  4. That if they seem disposed to make an offensive display of themselves, it should be prohibited.
  5. If they would be seriously exposed to the charge of impure motivations, it should be prohibited.
  6. If they seem inclined to seek intermarriage they should be privately warned of the dangers to which they will expose themselves and their parents, especially if the parties are young, should be informed of the indications, and if they seem destitute of discretion they should be removed from the school. But the mere fact that persons of different colors are engaged to be married, is not sufficient cause for removing them, provided they can direct  themselves with appropriate discretion.
  7. In case of a large preponderance of either sex of a single color special caution will be necessary to guard against such consequences as would not arise in a different state of society.
  8. As far as practicable, young ladies should be guarded against receiving habitual acts of special attention from a person whom it would clearly be undesirable for them to marry.
  9. It does not seem to us that under existing circumstances it is desirable in general for those of either race to cultivate the most intimate social relations with those of the other sex and a different race, especially where the difference in race is quite marked.