What does it mean to be radical? One definition I was drawn to is: (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
I think about the origins of Berea College, of our founders whose lives were threatened because the application of their Christian faith meant fostering an institution where everyone was accepted and treated equally in an interracial and coeducational environment. In the 1850s, when slavery was still supporting much of the country’s economy and women’s rights were next to non-existent, what Berea’s founders strove for was radical—a far-reaching change in the fundamental nature of how society viewed those who deserved the right to an education. In 1892, when Berea decided not to charge students tuition, it didn’t necessarily stand alone. But as time has passed, Berea’s commitment to a no-tuition education for Appalachia’s underprivileged yet standout students has proved to be a radically different concept—especially in today’s world, where student-loan debt tops more than $1.4 trillion.
From “going green” before going green was a thing to its inclusive Christian values that respect all religious beliefs—or none at all. From being one of only nine federally recognized work colleges to its commitment to equal treatment of and opportunity for LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff. Berea doesn’t shy away from the tension that exists in the world around it, but forges a path through the center, trying to seek what is right and fair, promoting love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice.
To me, though Berea has not always been perfect, its choice to stand in the tension, to not rest on its laurels, but to always be looking for ways to make the society into which it sends students better, is its far-reaching and thorough attempt to affect the fundamental nature of the world in which it has existed for 165 years—it is radical.
In the 2020 issues of the Berea College magazine, you will get a taste of the pieces of Berea’s past and present that demonstrate what makes Berea a college like no other. You’ll read stories of faculty crossing boundaries to make a difference in the greater community. You’ll read about students who stand up for what they believe and envision a future where injustice is diminished. Largely, you’ll encounter stories of alumni who, in big and small ways, are taking the radically different perspective they learned at Berea and infusing it into their world—choosing to stand in the tension, to think differently and to act with passion and intention.
I hope you enjoy rediscovering what has made and continues to make Berea College radically different.
Abbie Tanyhill Darst ’03