Director of the Carter G. Woodson
Center for Interracial Education
How do you think Berea’s commitment to interracial education works to serve the Appalachian community or region?
I think Berea recognizes the changing nature of Appalachia. It recognizes that other than the popular stereotypes we see of Appalachians, there is a cultural diversity that has always existed in the region. It encourages and celebrates that diversity.
The term interracial is odd. Berea is one of the few places that really uses that term. Everybody is drifting toward the use of the term multiculturalism or diversity, the new buzz words. But I really like interracial because it forces us to confront a cultural bias. While we say in the motto, “God hath made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” the term interracial highlights a problem by implying that there is more than one race. But I think it just reflects a cultural bias. We, in our culture, have accepted that people are different, that we have different races. At Berea, we try to live up to the motto, which is inclusive, but use the term “interracial” which implies a separation to make us aware of how our society has constructed us to think that people are different, that there are different races of people on the planet as opposed to one race, the human race. And it also reminds us how we still are not able to really get along with each other because we give race so much power and authority over us and how we react to other human beings. Race is a very powerful thing. We don’t talk about it, we don’t understand it, and in many ways we are afraid of it. To be able to get people to try to think differently and see folks beyond their skin is a big task. I applaud Berea for keeping the term interracial as part of its discourse.
I’ve not met many people on campus who haven’t tried in some fashion to integrate interracial education and the thought of it into their curriculum. There are still places where we could be better, but I think overall the campus buys in to the idea that interracial education is real and needed. We also acknowledge where we are not at our best and we are willing to find ways to be better. When people have an interest in developing interracial education, but lack the skill set to do so, we at the Woodson Center can step in and collaborate with them.
How could Berea College improve on its service to the community through interracial education? How is it already excelling?
I think our push to incorporate more diverse faculty and staff needs to catch up with our efforts to create a more diverse student body, which is an area where the college has done a good job. I also hope we can expand the programming like our Martin Luther King Day Celebrations and internships that we make available to the community. I didn’t realize how much the community depends on the college until I started to get calls asking “what we are doing” and “how can I support it?” from people in Madison County and other places. So, I hope to see more development in this area, just as I hope we continue our efforts to engage a more diverse teaching faculty and staff. We need to continue to work hard to open all aspects of our community where there is a lack of diversity. I think we are making this effort. We just have to keep pushing and not lose sight of our goals.