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

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

Stage Eight: Progress

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

Table of Contents

  1. The Eighth Stage: Progress

In July 1994, Larry D. Shinn became the eighth President of Berea College. Shinn saw education as means of finding common ground “in a society plagued by divisions based on race, religion or ethnic origins” (Wilson 202).75 At Bucknell University, Shinn initiated and implemented major affirmative action and minority hiring and enrollment plans. So, there was hope that the college's efforts to achieve the commitment to interracial education would improve.

In 1994-1995, Berea College developed a two-year long range planning process. One of the elements was a comprehensive strategic plan titled “Being and Becoming.” The external and internal challenges and strengths of the institution were explored in the document. Like previous long range planning documents, Berea’s admission policy was a topic of discussion. This time there was a plan of action.

The new admissions policy reaffirmed who would and would not be recruited. The approximately 1500 students would predominately be from Appalachia, Black and White, men and women; have limited economic resources; have “great promise” academically and personal qualities consistent with Berea’s Great Commitments; be attracted by Berea’s clearly articulated emphasis on learning, labor, and service; and represent a diverse cultural and ethnic mix to create a 21st century learning environment (Being and Becoming 1996 11).76 The goals were “to hold firm or increase the number of students who are recruited from Berea’s Appalachian counties, to increase the number of black students and international students, and to reduce the number of students taken from Western Kentucky and the non-Appalachian counties” (Being and Becoming 1996 39)77. To implement this policy and achieve the goals, specific actions were initiated such as including Cincinnati/Hamilton County, Ohio within Berea’s “in-territory” admission’s recruiting area to recruit needy Appalachian youth and African Americans; developing a plan to target specific cities while instituting [a] recruiting program that will increase Berea’s accomplishment of its interracial mission; and conducting a study about single parents from the region as a specific group of underserved students (Being and Becoming 1996 38-39).78 This policy was important because

there needs to be a critical mass of such students if Berea’s interracial educational environment, for blacks and whites, is to be viable. While no specific quotas or target numbers should be set, it is clear that there are too few black students on campus currently to provide a realistic interracial setting for many of Berea’s white students who will encounter an interracial workplace beyond the College (Being and Becoming 1996 56).79

The most significant action in creating the critical mass of African American students was “The establishment of [the] Minority Service Team in 1997” (Thomas).80 The team identified targeted recruiting areas; focused on increasing African American enrollment; and expanded the open house visitation program. Although the first open house occurred in February 1979, the program was formalized in February 1998, and became the Carter G. Woodson Open House (Thomas).81 In the 2003 African American Student Study by the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment in collaboration with the Black Cultural Center, the students rated the Carter G. Woodson Open House as one of the top three relative strengths of Berea College (African American Student Study).82 Other actions implemented included reorganizing the Admissions Office and revising its literature. As a result, from 1995-2005, the African American student enrollment increased from 8% to 19% (Being and Becoming 2006 65, 72).83 During this same period, the freshman retention rate improved from 65% to 80+% and the five-year graduation rate improved from 35.9% to 58.9% (72).84 The intentional recruitment of single parents with both financial need and academic promise also helped to increase the African-American enrollment. The program began in 1999 and many of these students have been single African American females with children (Wilson 214).85 Thus, in this stage of the college’s history, the enrollment and retention rates of African-Americans improved with the implementation of new strategies.

In 1996, the BCCIEP was reorganized. According to Gail Wolford, “through a process of discussion and consensus-building’ the Black Cultural Center (BCC) was separated from the Interracial Education Program and was placed in the Labor and Student Life Division. Its new mission included providing support services for African-American students and organizations, administering African-American service and outreach programs, and creating a hospitable environment for minority students, faculty and staff (Wolford).86 A new director was hired. Ironically, even though the BCC and BCCIEP were different, one problem still existed: it was 2002 before an administrative assistant was hired for the BCC. As with the Director of the BCCIEP, the Director of the BCC was expected to do everything.

In 1997, Cora Newell-Withrow was appointed the Director of Black Studies on a temporary basis. After her retirement in 1998, Academic Vice-President and Provost Steve Boyce and the Black Studies Advisory Board agreed upon the creation of a permanent position. After a national search, the Director of the Black Studies Program was hired in August 1999. On May 11, 2006, Berea College faculty approved the major in African and African American Studies (Canterbury).87

In terms of faculty and administrators, the changes have been less dramatic than the increase in African American students. In 2005-2006, out of 130 total full-time teaching faculty, 8% were African American (Institutional Characteristics).88 Historically, at least eight faculty of African descent have received tenure; only one has been denied. Still, no African Americans have been a vice-president, provost or an academic dean. However, two have served at the next administrative level: the Associate Dean of the Faculty from 2002-2006 and the Associate Provost for Advising and Academic Success from 2004-2008. They have also been recipients of major faculty and staff awards: Paul C. Hager Award for Excellence in Advising Award, the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service, and the Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching.

A new General Education curriculum was implemented in 2006. One of the required core courses, Writing Seminar II: Identity and Diversity in the United States, engages “all students on issues close to the historic mission of the College—race, gender, Appalachia, and class. Initially, each section explores the story of Berea, including as it relates to the unifying themes of GSTR 210” (Berea College Catalog 129).89 In addition, every student is required to “develop an understanding and appreciation of diversity through the study of one or more of those groups central to Berea Commitments: African-American, Appalachian, and/or Women” (Berea College Catalog 29).90 Students must pass at least one course designated by the Committee on General Education that fulfills this requirement. Interestingly, since the General Education program was first implemented in 1970, African-American, Appalachian, and Women Studies courses have always been in the same category and as a result, compete against each other for students.

Another example of the increased importance of the commitment to interracial education is the Founder’s Day Convocation, which was reinstituted in 2000. This event “celebrates Berea’s interracial history by honoring African-American and other alumni and leaders who overcame many obstacles to establish Berea College…and whose distinguished service to his/her community reflects the ideals of John G. Fee and his vision of an education for all” (Boggs).91 Since 2000, the majority of the recipients have been family members of African Americans who attended Berea College before the Day Law.

As mentioned earlier, in Spring 2003, the IRA in collaboration with the BCC, conducted a survey of African American students “to understand what factors account for the relatively high success of the College in attracting African American students and retaining them to graduation.” 92 In the Fall 2003, there were 260 African Americans; 67 were new freshman. Both comprised 17% of the total student body and freshmen class, respectively. The most recent five-year graduation rate available in 2003 reveals that 59% of African American students graduated compared to 58% of other domestic students and 100% of the international students. When asked, “Is the Berea College learning environment an inclusive one for African American students?,” 63% said “yes” and cited Berea College as an opportunity and described themselves as feeling comfortable (African American Student Survey).93 The consensus was that as Berea College approached its sesquicentennial in 2005-2006, African American students, overall, were more pleased than displeased. Despite many flaws and obstacles, there was progress in achieving the interracial commitment during the eighth stage of Berea College’s history (1994-2006).

Works Cited - stage eight

(Complete Works Cited List available)

75Wilson, 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

76Berea College. “Being and Becoming in the 21st Century, The Strategic Plan for Berea College, revised.” Strategic Planning Committee, June 1996, 39.

77Being and Becoming, 1996, 40.

78Being and Becoming, 1996, 40.

79Being and Becoming, 1996, 56.

80Thomas, Keila. “Potential Effects of Demographics and Educational trends on Higher Education and Berea College.” Long Range Planning Committee, 1987.

81Thomas, Carl. “Re: Carter G. Woodson.” E-mail to the author. September 9,2008.

82Berea College. "African American Student Survey,” Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 2003.

83Berea College. “Being and Becoming in the 21st Century, The Strategic Plan for Berea College, revised.” Strategic Planning Committee, February, 2006, 65, 72.

84Being and Becoming, 2006, 72.

85Wilson, 214. (on-campus full-text access via NetLibrary) Also 378.769 W753b 2006.

86Wolford, Gail. “Report.” E-mail to the author. September 5, 2008.

87Canterbury, Delphia. “Re: Further Questions.” E-mail to the author. September 18, 2008.

88Berea College. “Institutional Characteristics, 2005-2006.” Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 2006.

89Berea College. “Berea College Catalog,” 2006-2007, 129.

90Berea College. “Berea College Catalog,” 2006-2007, 29.

91Boggs, Bennett. “Re: Fee Awards.” E-mail to the author and Sherry Wakefield. September 18, 2008.

92African American Student Survey.

93African American Student Survey.

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