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Continuing a Tradition of Hope and Fearlessness

Continuing a Tradition of Hope and Fearlessness

By Dr. Cheryl Nixon, Berea College President

Dr. Cheryl Nixon with her new puppy on the porch of the President's Home

This summer I joined this community as the newest Berean. The welcome I have received has been nothing short of extraordinary. In a ceremony at Boone Tavern Event Center, President Lyle Roelofs passed the responsibility of leading the most distinctive liberal arts college in the nation to me, a role that makes me feel humbled, but also very excited.

Berea College is consistently ranked the top college in the state and a top liberal arts college in the nation.  These rankings are gratifying–but it is Berea College’s fearless founding and its brave dedication to educational opportunity that make me most proud.  And, as compelling as its history is, the unwritten chapters of Berea’s future, I believe, will be equally unparalleled.

The story of Berea College by is well known because of how often it has been told. The Reverend John G. Fee, rare even among abolitionists in the 1850s in that he advocated for immediate emancipation and full citizenship for enslaved Africans, endured violence and societal opposition to the cause of educating everyone regardless of their race or gender or social or economic status. Much has happened in the time since—a civil war, segregation, decades of restoration and growth toward a more egalitarian campus community and society at large.

Throughout it all, Berea College has stood as a beacon of hope, progress, and opportunity, unwavering in its enactment of our Great Commitments, which include equality, sustainability, and service to Appalachia. Women earned degrees and became faculty in the 1870s. Black and white students studied together until the state forced their separation, a legislative assault on liberty that Berea fought all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Berea College community marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Alabama.  From the beginning and throughout its history, Berea has asserted and insisted on the inherent kinship of all people, no matter their geographic location, their wealth, the color of their skin or their gender identity.

Though times have changed since Berea’s one-room-schoolhouse in the wilderness, educational access and the chance to earn one’s place in the world are still mission critical. Today, Berea is not merely an egalitarian anchor in an unjust and turbulent sea. Berea is a way forward, an example of what impartial love and intentional effort toward justice can accomplish. This school has and will continue to produce citizens who invent, lead, reform, serve and move people.

The future of Berea College will, in many ways, look much like its past: a fearless, insistent and hopeful community of people who believe higher education isn’t a commodity reserved for the privileged few. I am honored to be joining such a diverse and passionate campus with such a storied history and profound legacy to uphold. In the 22nd century, people will be telling stories of what we accomplished, about what we stood for, and about what we stood against. I, for one, am very excited about the idea of giving them something to talk about.

I am so grateful for the warm welcome I have received, and I am genuinely excited about the journey that lies ahead. Together, we will continue to uphold the values and ideals that have defined this institution since its founding in 1855. The best of Berea College is yet to come.