The topic of race has been a theme of the 2015-16 academic year at Springfield College, dating all the way back to first semester. From speakers and events related to the subject, to forums and meetings held on campus in an effort to improve the status of race relations, it’s been a recurrent conversation. Even from a faculty standpoint, the hiring of Calvin Hill as vice president for inclusion and community engagement, and Felicia Lundquist as director of multicultural affairs, the college itself has done a litany of things to improve the racial atmosphere on campus.
This past weekend, another step was taken with the improvement of the college in mind; the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Division for Community Engagement hosted “Living our Legacy: A Springfield College Forum for Alumni of Color.”
The event allowed alumni of color – the earliest dating back to the class of 1960, and the most recent being from the class of 2014 – to return to campus, converse with and meet with other alumni, and most importantly, help improve Springfield College from a racial standpoint.
“We had a great group of individuals that came back to campus,” Hill explained. “We had really three focuses. One was to hear the stories of our alumni, and let them know they aren’t forgotten. The other dynamic was to get their input on what an ideal campus environment would look like for alumni, and prospective students.”
Lack of diversity among students and even faculty is a problem colleges and universities around the country are facing – not just Springfield. To be able to hear from alumni of color in order to improve conditions on Alden Street is imperative.
“Part of it is about creating a culture,” Hill said. “A culture where our future students and existing students can feel successful. When you piggyback off of that, you want to make sure that there is a culture out there that have been a part of this institution, and they can speak about the type of institution Springfield College is. That was really helpful this weekend.”
As Hill explained, the pride of alumni is massive in the promotion of a college. Whether it’s wearing Springfield College gear, or hanging a diploma in an office, each aspect helps in drawing prospective students. In an area where schools tend to struggle with recruitment and retainment, having a passionate base of alumni of color is key.
“There is no delusion in the fact that this is a predominantly white institution,” Hill explained. “But it was a great conversation on how a population can really think about what are the things we can do as an institution to make populations that are different feel like they can feel not only successful, but comfortable. Making sure that [alumni] felt connected. Because once people feel connected, they’re more likely to refer students.”
Hill added that he uses the phrase, “A reason, a season, a lifetime,” when connecting to people about school. Essentially, there’s the reason someone comes to school. The season is the four, five or six years that someone spends at an institution. The lifetime is the following years post-graduation, where an alum still has plenty of time to connect with their alma mater. Hill continued by saying the “lifetime” is the biggest part of someone’s connection with a school, and the forum was a good chance to create stronger bonds with alumni.
“Everywhere you go, people are going to know you went to Springfield College,” Hill explained. “People see where you go to school. So while you’re not physically there, it’s part of who you are. For me, it’s the fact that we’re not just talking about the here and now, but the lifetime connection. So if you didn’t feel like you were connected during that season, we really want to make sure that we’re doing something to right that ship now.”
Given that the past eight months have had a theme of race relations to it on campus, ending the year on a good note with this forum is an uplifting feeling. Connecting with alums and building a plan for the future are two fantastic ways to head into the summer.
“This has been a year of change,” Hill said. “And this is something we really talked about with our alumni base. This is something I’ve talked about since I’ve gotten here. The fact is, if you look at the changing demographics of our country, we understand that institutions like a Springfield College are going to see a different demographic base over the next several years. We need to make sure that institutionally, we’re prepared for this changing phase of America.”