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The Face of Diversity

University Business, Aug 2008

Everybody is talking about "diversity": communities, businesses, political leaders, and institutions of learning. It is the new buzzword used in the quest to raise socio-economic and political consciousness in a global society that must learn to live, work, and play together. But the effectiveness of diversity depends on the sincerity of its delivery.

I often describe diversity as having four different levels of motivation for me: personal, spiritual, educational, and business. On the personal side, I was born and raised in Jackson, Miss. in the 1950s. My father was a Baptist minister; my mother was a homemaker. When I was a little boy, I became acutely aware of what I felt were civil injustices done to black people. From "The Little Rock Nine" and "Brown v. Board of Education," to the Los Angeles race riots and Voting Rights Act of 1965, many events relating to the Civil Rights era changed my life and perspective on my community, the nation, and the world. From that point on, I made a spiritual commitment to God, and to myself, that one day, I would help right some of those wrongs. Thus, my mission began.

Proverbs 3:27 basically says if you find yourself in a position where you can help make a difference in someone else's life, then you should do it. As president of Georgetown College (Ky.), a small liberal arts, predominately white Christian college, I am executing my God-given mission. I am an integral part of a historical, national movement in fostering diversity, especially in the area of education.

In general, diversity initiatives teach one how to employ strategies and tactics that help create a more inclusive environment where all team members are valued for their contributions. In business, the result is an increase in the growth, profitability, and competitive advantage in the workplace and marketplace. According to Patricia Gurin ("The Compelling Need for Diversity in Higher Education, Expert Report of Patricia Gurin"), "...colleges and universities have an obligation to choose carefully the kind of student body that will create the best learning environment for all their students...The vitality, stimulation, and educational potential of a college is, quite obviously, directly related to the makeup of its student body, and...diversity is a critically important factor in creating the richly varied educational experience that helps students learn and prepares them for participation in a democracy that is characterized by diversity."

Quite simply, diversity in higher education is critical to creating future leaders. That is why I determined that Georgetown College would be uniquely diverse. Our goal is to find the very best and brightest, and prepare them, so that one day, they can be doctors, lawyers, and CEOs of major corporations. People say, "Why do you think you can do it?" We have to do it. It's our responsibility. If these students are going to eventually lead this country, they must learn how to interact, relate to, and understand people of all races and cultures.

I became president of Georgetown College in 1991, but it was the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center that truly changed my future and the future of Georgetown College forever. It was the key point when America realized just how little we know about our neighbors from around the world, let alone our neighbors who live right down the street from us. That was definitely the turning point for me. I realized that I had never spent time really trying to understand other cultures, especially black culture, and that it was time to start learning. It was then I decided that the future of Georgetown College was in the establishment of diversity initiatives.

In order to develop strong diversity initiatives at any institution of higher learning, one must have a clear vision; be sincere about the mission; be open to change; be empathetic to all involved as they witness the evolution; be proactive, experiential, and innovative throughout the process; and be determined to achieve success!

I was up to the task. With the help of Dr. William Parker, a dear friend and retired African-American professor from the University of Kentucky, I became immersed in black culture, including becoming a member of the Black Expressions Book Club. He helped me learn by giving me "assignments." As a result, I met with many African-American pastors, community leaders, and various people within the business community to educate myself on minority life.

In 2007, I appointed Brian O. Evans Sr. as executive director of the Office of Diversity, and the diversity initiatives at Georgetown College really began to unfold. One of our most ambitious undertakings has been honoring over 7,000 alumni of Bishop College of Dallas, Texas (a noted historically black college until its closing in 1988), and establishing the Bishop Scholars program. The academic scholarship program allows selected students to carry on the tradition of Bishop College alumni and keep the legacy of Bishop College alive, while obtaining a first-class liberal arts education. The students will also have the opportunity to study at Oxford University (England) in their junior year. I am not aware of any other higher ed institution doing anything like this, especially a private, white college. Because of this initiative, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) recently hosted a reception in honor of Georgetown College, along with the current Bishop Scholars students, at the U.S. Capitol.

One of the most interesting efforts relating to the Bishop College initiative is the plan to erect a building on Georgetown College's campus that will integrate Bishop's architecture design, such as the traditional bell tower. Bishop College alumni will be an integral part of this process. The building will house the Education Department, the Office of Diversity, classrooms, and the first Bishop College Hall of Fame, and will also serve as a meeting place for Bishop College alums. An African-American architect firm and construction company is heading up the design and construction of the building.

Other recent diversity initiatives include establishing partnerships with the four National Black Baptist Conventions. In addition, we created the Underground Railroad Research Institute in May 2001, as a result of our efforts to attract minority faculty to Georgetown College through the graduate program. Alicestyne Adams, a Georgetown graduate student and director of the Institute, received a $2 million grant to establish a student research center. The Institute operates out of a structure that originally housed slave quarters.

Georgetown has also established "pull-through" scholarships as incentives to young black males to pursue a college degree. These scholarships will help identify boys entering the sixth grade, who, after meeting academic and participatory expectations, will be awarded scholarships to Georgetown upon graduating from high school.

Georgetown College is also developing partnerships with select medical schools to provide full scholarships for any qualifying African-American male graduates of the college, and establishing an entrepreneur and mentorship program that includes internships with major corporations.

Our goal is to provide diverse educational and leadership opportunities for all students through a number of partnerships and programs. These diversity initiatives provide new educational opportunities for African-American young people through a quality higher education experience at Georgetown College.

Because of our diversity efforts at Georgetown, we have garnered tremendous interest, not only from the educational community, but also from the business community, locally, regionally, and nationally. These business professionals have helped me form additional partnerships and increase opportunities to educate the public about the diversity efforts of Georgetown College.

These people include a variety of impressive individuals. Gemma Holmes, an African-American businesswoman and CEO of Holmes Pest Control of Nashville, Tenn., has helped me increase my network and opportunities to speak about what Georgetown is doing. Dr. Joel Gregory of Gregory Ministries, and a Distinguished Fellow of Georgetown College, has introduced me to many African-American Baptist pastors, which resulted in a partnership with the four National Black Baptist Conventions. Doug Freeman, CEO of Virtcom Consulting and a Georgetown College trustee, has provided me much insight on the business side of diversity. Freeman has a World Diversity Summit every year, and I have spoken at three of these summits describing Georgetown College's diversity efforts. Paul Volcker, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, is also a distinguished Fellow of Georgetown and has offered his own insight in achieving our diversity goals.

Also on the list is Phil Wilkins, an African American who owns Rising Star Inc. and Diverse Wealth Systems, a business development and diversity consulting organization. He has opened my eyes to the challenges faced by people of color seeking business opportunities, has demonstrated to me the effort required to be successful, and has encouraged me as I have sought solutions and opportunities for young African-American adults to combine education with opportunity. He also participates in the Entrepreneur and Mentoring program with Georgetown's Program of Distinction, a program for students who want to study business and entrepreneurship.

Together, we are discussing the possibility of launching a new diversity program that will benefit Georgetown College yet also extend beyond it: the "Diverse Wealth Tour." The purpose of the tour is to assist organizations such as franchisers, original equipment manufacturers, employers and community organizations to connect and locate potential investors, suppliers and employees, and build relationships with local business and community leaders.

These are just some of the people who understand my vision, and they have been wonderful coaches and mentors.

Since the start of Georgetown College's diversity initiatives, we are proud to say that we have developed a national and international reputation for developing innovative academic and non-academic programs in the area of diversity. With a current enrollment of 1,400 students, and 7 percent minorities, Georgetown still has a long way to go. Our goal is to achieve 17 percent minority enrollment within the next five years. Just this past fall, applications among African Americans rose by 128 percent with African-American freshmen enrollment up by 38 percent. So, our diversity efforts are definitely beginning to pay off. It's been exciting, challenging, and extremely rewarding to see the changes.

Change takes a lot of time and it has to start at the top. Therefore, we encourage open conversation and criticism. There is pain that goes along with it. A lot of our students are first-generation college students, so they are out of their comfort zone. Some of the students have grown up in an environment that is racially charged, so there are biases that are difficult to break through. That is what education is all about--helping students learn to break out of their comfort zones and learn from each other (and, of course, the educational institution) so that they may propel themselves into a brighter future.

Overall, we have a large number of students, faculty and staff who are truly seeing the fruits of Georgetown College's diversity initiatives. Plus, the college is beginning to attract an even more diverse student population (i.e., Asians, Hispanics/Latin Americans, Europeans, and other cultures). The new, added value to education at Georgetown is truly the diversity experience.

In the end, I am really proud of our students. I am seeing that they really want to learn more about this thing called "diversity." They are asking a lot of questions. I do not have all of the answers. But we are working together to find them.

We expect this to be a five-year transition. To ease the transition, we've started a series of campus forums to further address diversity with the faculty, staff and students. We have also created a Faculty Coalition for Diversity and a Guiding Coalition for Students. About 20 students who have been named the "change agents" for Georgetown College will be trained to have one-on-ones with students so that they can have their finger on the pulse of the student experience at Georgetown. In a few of the school newspapers, there have been letters criticizing the diversity efforts, and I welcome that. It means that they are feeling and seeing differences - that they are out of their comfort zone, which is the only way change can happen. It is a process that we're just beginning. We anticipated this.

Our diversity efforts at Georgetown College are also having a tremendous effect on the community, as a whole. Everybody seems to know we're up to something. I, personally, am really grateful for the new friends and business associates I have met.

In addition, we are beginning to provide some economic resources to African-American organizations who have never received any outreach from Georgetown College before. We are one of the major contributors to the local NAACP banquet. We are also trying to help the community be more inclusive. We have been working with Toyota on enhancing their diversity efforts. Sometimes it is just the little things that count. For example, we had the Platters performing group come to our campus to perform, so we sent Toyota 100 tickets for some of their employees to attend the concert. We have also begun to "adopt" a historically black part of our community (Boston) by offering free tutoring services from our students. We also sponsor the Ed Davis Annual Ball each year, a large celebration in the local black community.

There is not a week that goes by without an African-American organization or club asking Georgetown College to support something. That tells us we are doing something right, that these organizations feel comfortable asking Georgetown College for support, and that our diversity efforts are having impact way beyond the greens of our college campus.

My mission from childhood and the vision I hold for this country, as it relates to diversity, continues. "Diversity" is no buzzword to me. I believe that we all have a moral and spiritual obligation to look beyond race as a point of departure for relationships. I feel that every person should seek to add the richness of diversity in his or her lives. In order to address the global dimensions of our changing world, all those associated with Georgetown College understand that quality education now includes a commitment to diversity. They can graduate from Georgetown, and 20 to 30 years from now really make a difference in the lives of themselves, their families, the nation, and the world. If we are to secure the future of our children and this country, everyone must get on board with this historical movement. It's the right thing to do!

Dr. William H. Crouch Jr. is president of Georgetown College (Ky.).