Improving Experiences of Students of Color

By Doug Scanlon | Summer 2016

On May 10, 1969, a group of African-American students presented Springfield College President Wilbert Locklin with a list of nine demands, including increasing enrollment of black students; adding black faculty, coaches, and staff; providing more scholarships for black students; and establishing a black studies program.

If this sounds familiar, it might be because less than a year ago students at the University of Missouri presented their president with a list of eight demands, including increasing black faculty and staff, adding racial awareness and inclusion into the curriculum, and other similar requests.

All of which begs the question, 47 years after a group of Springfield College students occupied the Administration Building in protest of the racial environment on campus, have things improved? According to an issue of The Springfield College Bulletin from 1969, the black student undergraduate population at the time was 4 percent. As of fall of 2015, it was 5 percent, but that only tells part of the story since the number of programs and locations have grown dramatically since 1969.

Among all programs—including the School of Social Work, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, and all graduate programs—the percentage of students who identify as African, Latino, Asian, and Native American as of 2015 is 36.8 percent.

The question of whether things had changed hung in the air as a group of alumni of color gathered on campus for the event “Living Our Legacy: A Springfield College Forum for Alumni of Color.” This event, initiated by the Office of Alumni Relations and cosponsored by the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement, allowed members of alumni classes ranging from 1960-2014 to share their stories of struggle and finding their place on campus.

The morning began with a welcome address from Calvin Hill, PhD, vice president for inclusion and community engagement, followed by a focus group session in which alumni shared their experiences and explored ways to define an ideal campus experience for students of color. During a second session, Felicia Lundquist, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, moderated a student panel during which students shared their experiences and answered questions from the alumni.

“Director of Alumni Relations Tamie Kidess Lucey ’81, G’82, Felicia, and I wanted to provide a forum where alumni of color could share their story, connect with others who shared a similar experience, and meet with current students. Working together, we want to create a more diverse and inclusive community that positions Springfield College for a future that takes into account the societal trends most likely to influence the College’s long-term direction,” Hill says.

Some alumni, like Dan Smith ’60, spoke about the racism they faced in the work force. “I was the first black manager at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and I still couldn’t get pencils or folders for my office,” says Smith, who started the Area Health Education Centers while working at NIH.

Merylina “Ina” Asselin ’92, G’00, who is bilingual, recalls missing having someone with whom she could converse in her native language. “The only people I could speak Spanish with was the housekeeping,” she says.

What became clear from the conversation was less about the importance of numbers and percentages, but rather the College’s ability to show a commitment to diversity. Through the years, Springfield College has made changes to the curriculum, activities, resources, and programs to be more inclusive.

The general consensus was that the College has come a long way toward bridging diversity, but still has a way to go. One of the difficulties former Student Society for Bridging Diversity President Marcus Brown ’14 remembers was trying to engage the rest of the campus in multicultural events. “People didn’t want to be involved if they thought it didn’t affect them. But if we’re going to progress as a society, we have to have an understanding of each other,” he says.

Living in an increasingly pluralistic nation, it’s imperative that Springfield College prepares students to work with people with a cultural background different from their own. Societal trends indicate that the numbers of white and African-American college students are decreasing while Latino and Asian-American college students are increasing.

Because of this, the melting pot metaphor, which stresses assimilation, no longer seems appropriate. Instead, it’s being replaced with the fruit salad metaphor in which grapes, strawberries, and cantaloupe are all distinct, yet combine to form something greater than the sum of their parts.

For anyone crossing the Springfield College campus this past year it was hard not to notice Elijah Ryan ’16 because he was holding a sign that read: “Springfield College does not care about Black people.” Unsurprisingly, his one-man protest became a topic of conversation during the student-led panel portion of the event.

Charitie Bruning ’16, who served on the panel, noted that whether or not you agreed with Ryan, he started a conversation. Bruning found several white friends asking her why Ryan was protesting, even though he had not been in communication with any other student regarding his campaign.

The question of whether things had changed hung in the air as a group of alumni of color gathered on campus for the event “Living Our Legacy: A Springfield College Forum for Alumni of Color.” Members of alumni classes ranging from 1960 to 2014 shared their stories of struggle and finding their place on campus.

Writing in the College’s student newspaper The Student, Bruning noted, “I, as a black student of Springfield College, personally feel misrepresented. I at no point was surveyed or asked if this is how I felt. If I had been, I would have strongly disagreed. I was forced to represent a claim that I do not support.”

The experience led to Bruning’s internship in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, where she helped plan more programs to talk about diversity in different ways. While noting some of the same difficulties Brown experienced in trying to engage other students, she discovered the value of reciprocity.

“It’s not us versus them. You have to be willing to go to your friends’ events if you want them to come to yours. If I go to my friend’s dance recital, she might come to a forum on diversity,” Bruning says.

Both students and alumni at the event agreed that it was important to maintain one’s identity but still find ways to engage with other cultures. Above all else, the event showed a willingness among students and alumni of color to contribute to an even more inclusive Springfield College, however that path might take shape.

“I am reenergized about being reconnected with Springfield College, and committed to working more closely with the College,” Pam McCarthy Bamba ’74 says.