On Thursday, Sept. 22, Emory & Henry College held a grand opening for its new on-campus Inclusion and Dialogue Center. The I.D. Center represents the progress that has been made regarding diversity in and around the campus community.
On October 30, 1962, nearly 54 years ago, the College’s Board of Trustees met to decide whether E&H should be integrated. According to historian Scott David Arnold, the Board “resolved that the proper officials of the college accept ‘persons of the negro race.”
This landmark decision in the history of E&H was met with little to no publicity. President Hunt, “did not bring much notice to the integration and soft peddled its occurrence.” However, the seeds had been sown for radical change at E&H, and the passion for cultivating acceptance and diversity has only grown.
Last spring semester, a dramatic protest was held on the steps of Wiley Hall. This building, used as a hospital for the Confederacy during the Civil War, stands as the center point of campus. Its steeple towers above the campus, watching silently as change happens around it. Ana Rampy, now a sophomore, was one of the significant members of the student protest group INCITES! The main goals of this group were to bring attention to discrimination being carried out against E&H students in marginalized groups, and to offer solutions to help eradicate that discrimination and to create a more inclusive environment in and around the campus community.
When I spoke to Ana, she was wearing leggings emblazoned with the American flag–she emphatically wanted me to note that this is ironic. I tell her I want to describe her; she responds, “Well, I’m brown. What shade of brown am I anyway?” With her long hair tied in a messy bun atop her head, she is the embodiment of a too-busy student.
“I look like I haven’t showered in three days,” she quips.
When I asked her about her involvement in the protest that launched a thousand angry Facebook posts, threatening messages on the anonymous app Yik Yak, and that led most of the other students that protested that day to transfer away from the College, she grew solemn.
“Do I regret my involvement? In some ways, yes. Because I know that it affected my personal self esteem, my academic standing, and my opinion on the campus community. But, would I take back what I did? Never. Would I do it again? Yes.”
The response with which INCITES! was met echoes sentiments from over 50 years ago. Some of the earliest integrating African-American students from E&H recall, “three different kinds of people on campus: ‘Afro-Americans, Liberal Whites, and Old Fashioned Southern Whites.’”
Ana agrees. “We have students in marginalized groups who have experienced some form of discrimination and are vocal about, those who have not been vocal about it, white people who want to help the campus become more inclusive, and then people who do not necessarily feel comfortable with the knowledge that the history of this campus is not absolved with regard to inclusion and diversity.”
The first African-American student to live in a dormitory E&H, Jeronell “Nell” White, recalled backlash to her arrival on campus. In 1965, her first year at E&H, she had a small single dorm to herself because, “’no one wanted to be my roommate.’”
Other similar incidents occurred during this time. Rosemary Gray, the first African-American to graduate from E&H, was so upset by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that her professor sent her back to her dorm. “On the way back,” writes Arnold, “a male from the freshman dorm yelled some remarks that he was happy King was dead. Before she could walk away or make a statement, some fellow white students informed this individual that talk like that was not acceptable at Emory & Henry.”
When I recount this story to Ana, she vigorously nods her head. “When things started to die down a bit, someone placed racist graffiti in multiple places around campus. One in particular was a death threat. To this day, I’m still upset about it. The person or people were never found. But I don’t live in fear, because initially after it happened, my sorority reached out to me and made me feel really safe and really loved, and made me feel like nothing could get to me.”
Former E&H student Patsi Barnes Trollinger, class of 1972, said that “their [the integrating students’] courage, dignity, and tolerance made everybody else look good. [They were] genuine heroes.”
Current senior Joaquin Mancera carries this sentiment to modern times, asserting that students working toward diversity and inclusion at E&H today, “represent the best of us, even though sometimes they are misunderstood.”
The opening of the Inclusion and Dialogue Center at E&H was only the first in a series of progressive steps in order to further diversity and create a safer learning environment for students at the College. However, much like the integration of the school, it is only part of a long process.
“With the opening of the I.D. Center, we are making progress toward goals that are highly important to a community dedicated to civic virtue and vital piety,” said current E&H President Jake Schrum. With this opening “and the many other steps we are taking to enhance the quality of life for all students, we continue to engage in the conversations and the work that creates at Emory & Henry a contagious spirit of understanding, outreach, and love.”
– Emma Grace Thompson