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Berea College and Interracial Education: The First 150 Years: Stage Seven

Essay by Andrew Baskin, Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and General Studies

Stage Seven: Stagnation

Berea College and Interracial Education: The First 150 Years - GSTR 210

Table of Contents

  1. The Seventh Stage: Stagnation

John Stephenson became the seventh president in July 1984. The title of his thesis for the M.A. in Sociology, “On the Role of the Counselor in the Guidance of Negro Youth,” indicated he was interested in the education of African Americans, so hope abounded on campus with his inauguration. Despite some positive initiatives, Stephenson was deficient in terms of providing leadership in achieving Berea College’s commitment to interracial education.

Stephenson did not view Berea College’s commitments to interracial education and to mountain youth as competing commitments; he saw “African Americans in Appalachia [as] a seemingly invisible significant minority” (182).58 Because of this vision, Stephenson and one of his former students at the University of Kentucky, sought and obtained funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to create the Black Mountain Improvement Association (BMIA), “a community-based organization” in existence from 1990-1994 (Black Mountain Youth Leadership Program).59 Like other outreach programs created during the Stephenson era, there was a lot of dissatisfaction on campus about the BMIA. Some of the faculty saw the programs as interfering with Berea College’s “primary mission of undergraduate teaching or as diminishing support for academic programs” (Wilson 186).60 The poor administration of the BMIA only helped to increase the dissatisfaction both on and off-campus. Funds were not sought to continue the program after 1994. In addition, in 1993, the first Great Commitment was changed from: “To provide an educational opportunity primarily for students from Appalachia, who have great promise and limited economic resources,” to the following: “To provide an educational opportunity for students from Appalachia, black and white, who have great promise and limited economic resources” (quoted in Wilson 197).61

In 1988, Berea College was one of twenty colleges that received funding from the General Telephone and Electronics Foundation to create an outreach program for African American high school students: Science Focus (Science Focus).62 In 1999, Science Focus merged with Upward Bound and became the Carter G. Woodson Math and Science Institute.

Academically, in December 1983, the Berea College faculty approved the minor in Black Studies. In 1985, Cora Newell-Withrow became the Chairperson of the Department of Nursing. In 1986, Janice Blythe was hired and appointed as the Chairperson of the Department of Home Economics. Roland and Dorothy Goode, two Berea College alumni, contributed funds in 1988 to establish the Goode Visiting Professor in Appalachian and Black Studies to bring scholars in Appalachian and/or Black Studies to campus for an academic term or year. In addition, in 1994, the Black Ensemble, the extra-curricular activity created by African American students in 1969, became the Black Music Ensemble, a course open to all students. Despite these positive actions, the number of African Americans who were students, faculty, staff and/or administrators during 1984-1994 is evidence that the appropriate term to describe the efforts to achieve interracial education during the Stephenson administration is “stagnation.”

As stated earlier, the BCCIEP came into existence on July 1, 1983, without clarity on campus about its goals and objectives. The title and responsibilities of the center changed in 1996, but it was not until 2002 that an administrative assistant was hired to assist the director. In addition, from 1983-1994, except for the Director of the BCCIE, no other African American occupied an executive level administrative position. The numbers were also dismal for African American students. In 1986, the Students of the Future Subcommittee of the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) reported that in 1973, 152 or 11.3% of all students were African Americans and in 1985, there was less than 100 African Americans or 6.21% of the total enrollment (Students of the Future 7).63 Keila Thomas wrote in a report for the LRPC: “Berea College does not maintain an official goal for the percentage of American black students attending the institution. However, the admissions office ‘unofficially’ strives toward a twelve-percent black enrollment. From 1973, this goal was only reached twice” (45).64 According to the “Berea College Institutional Self-Study, 1993-1995,” in 1982-1983 only four of 106 faculty were African Americans. In 1993, eight of 112 faculty were African American (53).65 Thus, for the entire Stephenson era, promotion, recruitment and retention of African Americans, no matter whether they were students, faculty or administrators, was a problem.

In May 1985, Stephenson created a long range planning committee “to identify external environmental trends which may affect the College in the future and to examine current institutional strengths and weaknesses” (Report of the Future of Berea College 1).66 Four of the subcommittees discussed interracial education at Berea College.

The Students of the Future Subcommittee stated that complacency or inaction by previous administrators, trustees, alumni and students resulted in “a history of moderation and conservative actions” (7)67 and blamed leaders of Berea College in the 1950s for the problems of the 1980s. It also wrote, “The institution’s history of attempting to provide interracial education is indisputable: the extent to which that commitment has been actualized is debatable” (13).68 The Subcommittee on the Christian Commitment wrote that though the “Black commitment is chronologically prior, it has been overshadowed, and at time totally eclipsed by the ‘white commitment” (The Christian Commitment 6)69 and recommended that “students have the opportunity to study Afro-American … understandings of Christianity” and “the core curriculum be restructured” to incorporate the viewpoints of Afro-Americans, Appalachians, women and individuals living in the less developed world (10-16).70 The Subcommittee on Berea’s Interracial Commitment explored the meaning of the interracial commitment, how best to implement the commitment and what actions would be required to achieve the goal. It stated, “Although Berea was slow to reintegrate its campus during the early 1950s and will never again reach the level of integration achieved during its early history, this strong past dictates that Berea reaffirms its interracial commitment and make a more vigorous expression of this commitment in the future” (Berea’s Interracial Commitment 2).71 The Subcommittee on What Kind of Faculty Do We Want to Be recommended the creation of a special endowment to provide grants for a minimum of four years each to help two African Americans become faculty members and a subcommittee to the Advisory Council, to be known as the Equal Opportunity Employment Committee, to report on matters pertaining to the hiring and retaining of women and minorities (8).72

The recommendations of the subcommittees led to “one of the clearest, strongest calls for change to emerge from the planning process: to increase racial and ethnic diversity among our students and throughout the institution” (Report of the Future of Berea College 19).73 In its final report, the Long Range Planning Committee made the following recommendations in order to assist with planning for the next 20-25 years: high institutional priority be given to increasing the Afro-American enrollment to 15-25% of the total by the year 2000 and international student enrollment be increased to 9-10% of the total by the year 1994.

The best summary of the seventh stage of Berea College’s effort to achieve its interracial commitment was made by Wilson in Berea College: An Illustrated History. He wrote:

The college affirmed its missions to African-Americans, setting ambitious enrollment goals to move Berea beyond mere tokenism. The understanding of interracial education was further expanded to include international students as well as curricular experiences to enhance multicultural learning…Faculty, staff and students were involved in serious and meaningful examination of Berea’s mission, but this conversation was difficult to sustain. (Wilson 194)74

Wilson was partially right. During this stage, in terms of achieving the interracial commitment, there was a lot of conversation, but not enough action.

Works Cited - stage seven

(Complete Works Cited List available)

58Stephenson, John B. "On the Role of the Counselor in the Guidance of Negro Youth." Masters Thesis.

59Berea College. Black Mountain Youth Leadership Program File. Berea College Archives, Black History Week and Month Folder, 1994.

60Wilson, Shannon. Berea College: An Illustrated History. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2006. (on-campus full-text access via NetLibrary) Berea 378.769 W753b 2006

61Wilson, 197. (on-campus full-text access via NetLibrary) Also 378.769 W753b 2006.

62Berea College. Science Focus File, Berea College Archives and Special Collections, 1988.

63Berea College. “A Report on the Students of the Future.” Long Range Planning Subcommittee on the Students of the Future, February 1986, 7.

64Thomas, Keila. "Potential Effects of Demographics and Educational Trends on Higher Education and Berea College." Long Range Planning Committee, 1987, 45.

65Berea College Institutional Self-Study, 1993-1995, SACS/Self-Study, January 1995 , 53.

66Berea College. “A Report on the Future of Berea College, 1987-2010,” Report of the Berea College Long Range Planning Committee, 1987.

67Students of the Future, 8.

68Students of the Future, 13.

69Berea College. “Subcommittee VII: On the Christian Commitment,” Long Range Planning Committee, 1986, 6-7.

70Christian Commitment, 10-16.

71Berea College. "Report on the Long Range Planning Subcommittee III: On Berea’s Interracial Commitment,” Long Range Planning Committee, 1986.

72Berea College. "Subcommittee V: What Kind of Faculty Do We Want to Be?” Long Range Planning Committee, 1986, 8.

73Report on the Future of Berea College, 19.

74Wilson, 194. (on-campus full-text access via NetLibrary)

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