Coinciding with the arrival of Toms and Tate was that of Dr. Jonathan Messerli, ninth president of Muhlenberg College, in August 1984. Without a doubt, students wholeheartedly welcomed the change of leadership. President Messerli’s openness to listening and responding to students, recognizing their worth and thoughts, seemed to ignite a positive shift in the campus culture from apathy to engagement.
The president’s philosophy of education put the quality of student life first. In a Muhlenberg Weekly interview in his first weeks on campus, Messerli was quoted as saying, “If it’s important to students, it’s an important issue. Every Muhlenberg student is important.”21 He was keen on having everyone, especially Admissions, telling Muhlenberg’s story to attract qualified students, believing happy students would tell their own story about why they chose Muhlenberg.
But, as Susan Toms recognized, Muhlenberg did not have that many happy Black students telling their own communities about why they should join the campus.
As the Minority Recruitment Director, Toms thought one way to improve the social life for Black students, to close the gap in total socialization, was the formation of the Black Collegiates United (BCU).22 Built on the previous Black social groups, including the Association of Black Collegians and other local colleges’ organizations, the group planned to host both local events and participate in other Black group events in the area. Unfortunately, there seems little evidence that the BCU ever got off the ground.
Working against the hope for increased minority enrollment were the costs associated with recruiting more students of color, new course development focused on race and ethnicity, the availability of financial aid, and the rising costs associated with food service and maintenance of buildings and grounds. In March 1985, a particular forum about long-term issues involved selected students who met with members of the Board of Directors and President Messerli.23 In the discussion about the size of the student body and the college’s aim to increase minority enrollment, issues about minority students’ preparedness for Muhlenberg academic rigor, financial aid, the declining influence and importance of the Lutheran Church, and geographical diversity discussed revealed the complicated politics of such an aim.