Andrew and Symerdar Baskin honored at 2021 Homecoming
Symerdar Baskin: Honorary Alumna Award
Helping Students Grow
When Symerdar Baskin and her husband, Andrew, moved from Virginia to Kentucky in 1983, their plan was to stay five years.
As they close in on 40 years in Berea, the Baskins have been recognized for their dedication to Berea College and its students. Symerdar Baskin received an Honorary Alumna Award in November, presented to non-alumni in recognition of outstanding service to and demonstrated loyal interest in Berea College.
“We love Berea, and we love students,” she said of the honor. “Berea has made such a positive impact on our lives.”
When the couple first arrived in Berea to look for a house, it was Symerdar’s first visit to Berea. She planned to continue teaching high school but learned she would need two more years of college to be able to teach in Kentucky. And even with those years of college, she wouldn’t be guaranteed a job.
So she took a job in the Berea College Admissions office instead. There, she was approached to become a salesperson for Kirby vacuum cleaners, leading her to discover her knack for sales. She later transitioned to selling insurance, a business she stayed in until retiring in 2011. Those jobs allowed her the flexibility to attend campus events with her husband and to be a part of the College community.
“There was always an activity, and I was on campus a great deal of time,” Baskin said. “If something was happening that Andrew was involved in, I was usually there. I would go to convocations, dance tours; I could travel with him. Whenever he took students on a trip, I was there.”
That relationship with students led the Baskins to invite students to their home at the end of each semester, where they provided a big, home-cooked meal.
“They would make requests for whatever they wanted,” Baskin said. “‘Can we have some banana pudding this time? We didn’t have that last time.’”
“‘Please make corn pudding,’” was another frequent request, she said.
Occasionally, students who were unable to go home for the holidays would spend them with the Baskins. “One student spent Thanksgiving with us three times, and she became family,” Baskin said.
Watching students grow and go out on their own, then hearing from them regularly has been a blessing to both Andrew and Symerdar.
“Kids come to Berea green as grass, scared of their own shadow,” she said. “We watch them mature into beautiful, caring young people. When they would come back, it would give you a sense of pride to know that you were there along the way.”
In 2018, the Baskins decided to establish an endowed scholarship to help students and to carry their dedication into the future.
“We decided we wanted to do something for Berea, because Berea has made such a positive impact on our lives,” Baskin said.
The Andrew and Symerdar Baskin Student Research Fund is scheduled to be awarded for the first time in 2022. The scholarship is intended to promote continuing education and research in African American culture and history.
“I would always hear Andrew telling students that if they wanted to know more about something, then ‘do some research—dig into why things are this way; dig into any aspect of your culture that interests you,’” Baskin said. “Then, you realize there are really no funds to do that, specifically. We want to make sure students who want to know more about African American culture and history have the funds to do that.”
For Baskin, the scholarship is a way to continue to show the love she and her husband have had for Berea for so many years.
“The most important aspect of educating students is to provide them with an opportunity to grow,” she said. “I think the scholarship will provide them with a different avenue in which to grow that they normally would not have had access to. It will be exciting – we are looking forward to it.”
Andrew Baskin: Rodney C. Bussey Award of Special Merit
The only Berea faculty member to earn all three prestigious faculty awards given by the College, Andrew Baskin ’72 left an indelible mark on his alma mater and the institution at which he served for 36 years. Baskin received the Rodney C. Bussey Award of Special Merit in November 2021, which is given to alumni who have been employed by the College, in recognition of their outstanding service to, demonstrated loyal interest in and extraordinary quality of work for Berea College.
Baskin was raised in Alcoa, Tenn., and came to Berea as a student in 1968. He majored in history and graduated with enough hours for a double major in Black studies. In 1975, he earned a master’s degree in history at Virginia Tech University and went on to teach at Ferrum College in Virginia.
By 1983, he and his wife, Symerdar, decided to return to Berea, and he became the first director of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) and joined the College faculty. When Baskin was a Berea student, a degree in African and African American Studies was not yet a part of the college catalog. However, over the course of 36 years, Baskin transformed the BCC and the African and African American Studies (AFR) department. Through his contributions, AFR became a distinctive program of academic study.
At the center of all his accomplishments, Baskin says his highlight is the students he taught and built relationships with. “For me, success is that every student but one that has come into the AFR program has graduated—I have put my heart and soul into this,” he said.
At the Academic Year Opening Program and Reception in 2017, Baskin was recognized for his upcoming retirement. One of his colleagues was quoted, saying “Students who have completed (or, in their words, ‘survived’) one of his classes feel an abiding connection with him. To be sure, a Baskin class is not for the faint-hearted. Be on time or be locked out. Have the courage of your convictions. Be prepared to defend your claims—again and again. Take your one wild and precious life seriously—because he certainly does. His classes can seem like, and in some respects are, trials—extended tests of learning and of character, as well. Students recognize that they come out the other side of Andrew’s classes empowered with greater knowledge of themselves. Andrew is among Berea’s most thoroughly Socratic instructors and provocateurs, asking pointed questions of students and colleagues that puncture self-delusions and uncover inconsistencies of thought and action.”
This deep commitment to student learning and growth earned Baskin the Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004 and the Paul C. Hager Award for Excellence in Advising in 2016. On the eve of his 2019 retirement Baskin was awarded an honorary degree in African and African American Studies.
Over the years, Baskin’s service to the College and community has been generous. His community service includes a stint as the moderator of the London District Baptist Missionary and Educational Association and serving as pastor at the Hamilton Chapel Baptist Church in Flat Lick, Ky. His dedication to service earned him the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for Community Service in 2002, and he sought to pass his service-minded approach on to his students.
“I’ve always told my students, ‘You shouldn’t just get an education for an education’s sake,’” Baskin explained. “’You should use your education to make your world better. The value should be that you are doing it to make the world that you live in better!’
“The value should come from something that is inside of you, that you know that you make things better,” he continued. “That you can do something that will help someone else have a better life. To me, it is something intrinsic. It is your soul; it is your spirit.”