Rather than providing conclusions on the history of diversity at Muhlenberg, this is a to-be-continued chapter. The present version is both illustrative of the stories that have been told and suggestive of stories that should be told. In other words, it’s an open invitation to past and present students engaged in any field or major. For current students, your intellectual curiosity and engagement is the key to an abundance of possibilities. For past students, we would be honored to capture an oral history about your experiences while on campus.
Diversity at Muhlenberg evolved, however slowly, with the energy and optimism of each new entering class, with the demographics and experiences of faculty, and with each new administration. In our work thus far, we’ve learned much but know there is much more history of diversity to uncover. For example, from student-led interviews of alumni from the 1970s, we learned how experimental it felt to be a Black student on a primarily white campus. Many of these alumni were frank about the challenges they faced as well as the assistance they received from a small but mighty group of mentors. They were also frank about blending in, about being the “nice Negro” as Anna Deavere Smith wrote in describing her experiences in a white college (The Atlantic, 2021). But, as the decades rolled by, students of color and faculty of color expected more than simply being on the roster. They expected equity and inclusion on decision-making, on impacting the shape and feel of campus life, and on a curriculum that enriched their own understanding of African American history and culture.
Independent Student Work: Further Opportunities
From the work of Samantha Brenner ‘21 in Spring 2021, we have a much clearer picture of the timeline of the courses offered that lead to the African American Studies concentration, and later, to the Africana Studies minor. This timeline, while well-researched data, needs more research in a continuing and evolving history of the curriculum. For example, the problem with faculty of color who leave after a few years or students of color who transfer, is an area for exploration. As well, the process for adding new courses is another avenue that may shed light on curriculum growth in Africana Studies.
Another student, Hailey Petrus ‘23, was struck by the remarkable similarity between the narratives of the Black alumni interviewed, particularly from the EOP project, and what she had experienced and heard from other students of color on campus in 2021. For example, Zaire Carter ’22 talked about attending SGA meetings but being ignored, a similar sentiment Natalie Shannon Frances-Jackson ’73 expressed about trying to join social clubs, “We would show up but we were never…we were never invited.” Interviewee Harold Hillman ’77 he shared that some white students reminded Black students that they were tokens. Similarly, Veda Bridglel ’23 related the feeling that there is a lot of tokenism, especially when she was the only person of color in a class. To be sure, Hailey’s oral histories of two contemporary students of color provide a strong beginning for other students to continue this valuable and insightful work.
Our collected histories from lived experiences framed within a historical context are data to help us understand and grapple with our past and, with an enriched grasp on our past, and often repeated efforts, work toward a collective future that reflects a truly inclusive, equitable culture for everyone in the Muhlenberg campus.