Several events will help Abilene Christian University recognize Black History Month this February:
- March 1-2, Cullen Auditorium – Ruth, a play performed by members of the Black Students Association. Call the Office of Multicultural Enrichment at 325-674-6562 for tickets, which are available starting Feb. 18.
- Sundaes on Mondays, Feb. 4, 8 p.m., Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building – A panel discussion on immigration issues.
- Feb. 7, 11 a.m., Hart Auditorium – Multicultural Chapel
When Dr. Steven Moore touched pen to paper and signed his name on a contract to teach at ACU, he had no idea how those few simple strokes would change his life.
He did not know his family’s painful history with the university that had just employed him. He knew little about the groundbreaking apology delivered that very year for its role in racial discrimination. Moore only knew that he had a job.
“After I mailed the contract, that’s when my parents sat me down and told the story,” said Moore, assistant professor of language and literature. “I never knew the story of my dad and ACC. Not at all.”
In 1957, Troy Moore was a high school honors student with multiple collegiate offers. But he intended to go to a Christian college, and as a member of the Church of Christ, wanted to attend Abilene Christian.
ACU – still five years away from desegregating its undergraduate classes – turned Moore away.
“I could not believe it,” his son said, reclining in the desk chair of his lamp-lit, book- and plaque-lined Chambers Hall office 55 years later as he recounted the moment his parents relayed the story. “I was dumbfounded. I was shocked.”
Moore began teaching at ACU in 2000, just months after then-president Dr. Royce Money (’64) issued an apology at the Southwestern Christian College lectures, confessing and asking forgiveness for the university’s past segregation.
Moore’s tenure and background make him uniquely qualified to assess ACU’s progress toward further healing the wounds of old divisions and creating new opportunities for multicultural community since Money’s apology.
In the 12 years since he was hired, Moore has become one of ACU’s most popular professors, winning the student-selected Teacher of the Year award in 2004. He has always felt welcomed on a campus that remains predominantly white, he said, but has noticed a significant improvement in the way race is approached, discussed and lived at Abilene Christian.
“I’ve seen enormous change in that regard,” he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to tear down so many boundaries and so many walls.”
Since 1962, when Billy Curl (’64) and Larry Bonner (’64) made ACU history by enrolling in classes as the university’s first full-time undergraduate African-American students, ACU has clearly made significant strides in its acceptance and treatment of ethnic minorities on campus.
Since 2000, the changes are perhaps not as stark – but they are no less real, officials say.
In Fall 1999, just 6 percent of ACU’s faculty and staff were ethnic minorities. By Fall 2011, that figure had doubled. Similarly, the number of students reporting an ethnically diverse background has risen to nearly 30 percent – and exceeded that figure for the first time in the Fall 2012 entering freshman class.
“Fifteen, 20 years ago, you saw much less of a presence of black and Hispanic students on campus,” said Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, vice president and dean of student life. “There’s a completely different feel now.”
Thompson, an African-American, speaks from experience. He visited campus as a youth and noticed how few students looked like him – and those he saw seemed sequestered in their own groups. “There was clear racial tension,” he said. “I think today the difference is I see less racial tension, yet a general unawareness of the real issues involving race and culture.”
Generational change undoubtedly has played a role in that transformation, but so also have intentional efforts to increase communication between and among students of different backgrounds, said Byron Martin (’09), director of the Office of Multicultural Enrichment.
For years, the university simply did not appreciate the extent to which students of color – many of them from out of town or out of state and not from a Church of Christ background – experienced culture shock when coming to campus for the first time, said Martin, himself an African-American.
“As a whole, ACU is becoming a little more aware of that and making strides in opening it up to make students feel more comfortable on campus,” he said.
A large part of that has been the creation of the Intercultural Effectiveness Team, a group of campus leaders, co-chaired by Thompson and provost Dr. Robert Rhodes, committed to increasing minority recruiting and retention – which means having a campus both welcoming and embracing of students from many different backgrounds.
“We’re expected to secure a certain level of results,” said Martin, also a member of the team, which is a successor to a volunteer committee with a similar purpose started in the 1990s by then-provost Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen.
As a result, new student groups representing students of color have flourished – older groups such as the Black Students Association (formerly Essence of Ebony), Hispanos Unidos and the International Students Association joined by Virtuous Sisterhood, Sanctify, Chinese Christian Fellowship and others. Likewise, a monthly multicultural Chapel now attracts hundreds of attendees to a format in which students lead prayer, read scripture and sing in a variety of styles and languages.
The goal, Martin said, is not to achieve a colorblindness in which no one discusses race, but to celebrate campus diversity and learn from each other’s differences.
“How do we get together and say, ‘Campus, this is who we are?’” Martin said. “ ‘Come join us in that, share in that with us.’ ”
One way, begun by university vice president Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64) in 1998, is the Lynay program, part of the Center for Building Community, which McCaleb, a former Abilene mayor, runs.
Lynay, originally an acronym for the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” began as a group of 100 students – 25 from each classification and roughly divided so that 30 are white, 30 are black, 30 are Hispanic and 10 are international students. Likewise, the group is composed of 50 men and 50 women.
“Every way you slice it, it’s diverse,” McCaleb said. “The best communities come out of diversity.”
The students meet weekly to hear speakers from the ACU and Abilene communities, as well as occasionally national and international leaders, and they also perform on-campus and community service projects together.
When McCaleb assembled his first group of students, he told them, “Each of you is participating in a human experiment in building community.”
The experiment has gone well enough to comprise 400 students in intentionally diverse communities between Lynay and its sister program, Pulse.
McCaleb said he believes 14 years of Lynay have made a dramatic impact on the entire student body as the conversations within the group are replicated in residence halls, in the Bean or in class.
“We get anecdotal types of impressions all the time that what we do in Lynay permeates from the Lynay members into the broader student body,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Such community – whether the bond of 100 students in Lynay or a dozen students in a classroom – has long been a hallmark of ACU; its extension to students of color remains fairly recent in the life of the 107-year-old university.
Yet it’s happening. Of that, Moore is confident.
“That’s why I love teaching,” he said. “I walk in the classroom, and we’re sharing life together. That’s the most important thing we try to do as we teach.”
One day, several years ago, Moore shared life – and his parents – with his students. Troy Moore sat in an ACU classroom for the first time and watched his son lead the discussion.
“After I’d heard the whole story from my dad – his rage and anger and disappointment with the university, and how it turned to love and forgiveness – it helped me to understand,” Steven Moore said. “Being here definitely means so much more because of what happened to my dad and others who were deemed unacceptable.
“Now I walk into the classroom, and I get to see cultures interacting with each other,” he added. “I love that.”
Read “Trailblazers,” the cover story of ACU Today’s Fall 2012 issue:
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