Engaging Alumni of Color

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by Meg Kimmel

The reality : historically, the Davidson experience has often been complicated for students of color. As a result,
many alumni disengaged from the college following graduation. Not satisfied with this reality, Davidson’s Alumni Board addressed it directly at a unique reunion last fall.

Lester Brown ’68, one of the first two African Americans to integrate Davidson in 1964 and the father of Demian Dellinger ’98, joined approximately 40 alumni who returned to campus for “Redefining Davidson: A Celebration of Diversity.” The weekend was hosted by the Alumni of Color Engagement Committee, or ACE, established in 2008. Comprised of alumni and staff, ACE was led in its first year by Lucinda Kellam Jones ’87, Izzy Justice ’90, and Rusty Lindsey ’76.

During a Saturday morning panel discussion,Brown spoke about his student experience. Highly recruited by other top schools across the country, he chose Davidson “for the same reasons as the other 999 men on campus,” he said—for the best possible liberal arts education. Although he went on to earn both a law degree and a master’s in public health, he said that he learned the most from his Davidson professors. They taught him that getting an education was his responsibility, and gave him the confidence to pursue his goals. “It has served me well,” he said.

Brown is encouraged by “invitation to openness and inclusivity,” and hopes that the college will continue to
be strategic about those “things that we can do at a detail level to make this happen.”

“Would you send your children to Davidson,” someone asked the panelists during the discussion. Janet Harrell ’85
stood to speak. “When I left here in ’85, the answer to this question would have been an unequivocal no, no way,” she laughed. “But today, my children have only two choices: a red T-shirt or a black one.

“If my children go to school here, they will have a mother who is a graduate; they will have an aunt and an uncle who are black graduates… they will be surrounded by alumni kids who are black,” Harrell said. “What other school in the country could I send my children to where they’d have that experience?”

To symbolize the ACE initiative, the group planted a white swamp oak near Vail Commons, near the site of the future multicultural resource center. The tree’s arboretum tag reads, “May the growth of this tree represent Davidson’s firmly rooted commitment to diversity and inclusivity for all members of the college family.”

As the weekend drew to a close, Rusty Lindsey announced plans to create a Davidson Trust scholarship, funded primarily by Davidson’s growing body of African-American alumni, in support of students of underrepresented populations.

For more information, contact Peter Wagner ’92 in Alumni Relations at pewagner@davidson.edu or Maria Tardugno Aldrich ’03 in the Annual Fund at maaldrich@davidson.edu.

To hear the full panel discussion check out iTunes.davidson.edu, “Redefining Davidson:A Celebration of Diversity.”

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