By Collin Atwood
During the fall semester of 2020, the SEAT at the Table events were introduced to the Springfield College campus. Charisse DelVecchio, a graduate student at the time, came up with the idea so the College could start having serious conversations about diversity on campus.
SEAT at the Table made its return for the 2021 fall semester on Oct. 17 to continue the important week-long conferences that revolve around diversity and inclusion.
On Oct. 19, the week-long event continued with a day full of informative workshops. There were a wide variety of topics talked about, from contemporary music in politics to linguistic discrimination.
The second event of the day was titled “The Springfield College Journey of Racial Awakening” which was hosted by Springfield College President, Mary-Beth Cooper and Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement, Dr. Calvin Hill.
During this event, Cooper and Hill took the audience back in time to see how Springfield College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has progressed over the years. They conducted intense research to give the guests at the event a realistic idea of how the campus community has changed.
Before talking about how Springfield College has become more diverse and inclusive over the years, Hill went over how education itself has become more inclusive.
“With post-reconstruction we saw the rise of our nation’s historically Black colleges and universities,” Hill said. He mentions a few well known ones such as Howard University, Hampton University and Fisk University.
Hill went on to talk about the Civil Rights Act and how it affected the enrollment of Black students. To keep receiving federal funds, colleges and universities had to document who was and who was not attending their school. This gave schools a reason to start opening their doors to students of color.
“Between 1964 and 1970 we saw a large proportion of our county’s Black students attending predominantly white universities, so this was really positive,” Hill said.
Over the years, Springfield College was becoming more and more diverse and many students were making their voices be heard. President Cooper says that the events in the 1960s are comparable to what happened on campus in 2020.
“I think the comparison between 1964 and 2020 is really comparable because it is groups that are wanting to have a voice, to have a seat at the table, to also be heard and to challenge, in particular, the government,” Cooper said.
She adds that we have to make sure it is not another 50 years before our campus revisits this discussion because not much has changed over that time period.
Part of the reason that President Cooper may sense some similarities between the two dates is because in 1969 there were a list of demands made, similar to the demands that were made in 2020 by social justice groups on campus.
Hill and Cooper talk about the demands and how Springfield College responded to them.
The first two demands were about Black students’ access to Springfield College. The first demand stated that the students wanted there to be 200 or more Black students in the upcoming class which was the class of 1973. Hill stated that we still do not have many Black students enrolled to this day. “We have not reached that level.”
Hill then brings up a quote from Springfield College’s first full-time President, Laurence Locke Doggett: “The College has never hesitated to offer equal educational and technical advantages to students of all races without any reservation.”
The second demand was,“We demand a Black man in the Admissions Office immediately to direct the year round recruitment of Black students by Black students.” In response, the College hired Nolan Thaxton to work part-time in the admissions office as the demanded “Black man.”
“The students weren’t thrilled with that. Nolan Thaxton should have been, from their thoughts, a faculty member because he was a doctoral student,” Hill said.
He added that the students wanted him to be engaged in the education of the students on campus and not just the admissions department. From there, the College went on to hire Earnest Jones to recruit students of color.
“In many respects this was one of the ways that the College responded to that 1969 list of demands,” Hill said.
The third demand on the list was about more financial aid and scholarship opportunities for Black students. While Springfield College could not meet every single financial need, they gave the students a list of scholarships that were out there so the student knew where to go for these awards.
Today our campus has two BIPOC Scholarships. The Jesse Parks Scholarship came in 1986 and the William Beckett Teacher Preparation Scholarship came in 2014.
Next, Hill touched on the demands that called for a change in the curriculum. Part of the demands were that the students wanted a Black studies program.
“We didn’t find any evidence that we established a Black studies program, but what the college did do is, they began to offer courses,” Hill said.
This was a big step in Springfield College’s racial awakening due to the publicity they were receiving. In 1969 the Springfield Daily News published an article about how Springfield College was adding new courses in response to the list of demands.
The last demand stated that “we demand more Black representatives on the Board of Trustees.” Before getting into the demand, President Cooper explains what a Trustee does.
“The trustees, from my perspective as the President, are a very important group for the institution because they are making decisions on who gets tenure at the institution, what the tuition rates will be…oftentimes students and others don’t understand the power of trustees.” Cooper said.
Hill and Cooper stated that more research needs to be done to determine exactly how the College responded to this demand at the time, but from 1968 to 1974 there were at least three Black trustees.
During these years, Springfield College had two governing boards which were the Board of Trustees and the Corporators. It is unclear if the demands were talking about the trustees or the corporators, but there were people of color on both during the time of the demands.
At Springfield College we now have 30 members on our Board of trustees and five of them are people of color.
Although this presentation was about how we progressed in the past, Cooper and Hill made it clear that this is also about how we can do better moving forward. “We are very committed to this journey and being successful,” Cooper said.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College