BOONE—They might not have realized it at the time, but many former Appalachian State University faculty, staff and students spearheaded the university’s diversity efforts beginning in the 1960s.
Four of those individuals were honored with a Faces of Courage Award presented Oct. 2 during a Commemoration of Integration held on campus.
They were Dr. Carolyn Anderson ’69 of Winston-Salem, Dr. Willie Fleming ’80 ’84 of Charlotte, Barbara Reeves Hart ’65 of Gastonia and Dr. Zaphon R. Wilson ’76 ’77 of Raleigh.
“During the Civil Rights movement more than five decades ago, America’s youth forced our nation to face ugly truths and to begin the process of reconciling them. When Appalachian State Teachers College first became integrated more than 50 years ago, our community joined this national movement in our own way, with a dedication to eradicating egregious inequalities, with a hope of making our society more inclusive, and with a desire to make the world a better place for all of us,” said Chancellor Sheri N. Everts.
“It is fitting that college campuses, including Appalachian, continue to be a significant and important part of holding our nation accountable for institutionalized racism and acts of violence and injustice,” she said. “As our nation’s demographics change, our university population must reflect these changes. With the benefit of more diversity of thought, belief and community, we will better equip our students to live with knowledge, compassion, dedication, humility and dignity.”
Carolyn Anderson, who earned a degree in mathematics, was the first African-American, full-time faculty member at Appalachian. She taught in the Department of Mathematics.
“My biggest hope would be that in 10 years Appalachian would look totally different than what it does now, with more students involved in research and that there would be a larger diverse population,” she said in a video tribute.
Anderson held faculty or administrative posts at Livingstone College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College before retiring as associate director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Winston-Salem State University.
Willie Fleming was a founding member of the Appalachian Gospel Choir and its first director, a founding member of the Black Student Association and the Black Faculty and Staff Association and an advisor for minority students. He also helped university administrators establish National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities for African-American students.
“Appalachian State changed my life. I grew up in Boone; I matured there and it was absolutely the best time in my life,” Fleming said. “My career at Appalachian State started as director of minority affairs in 1983. To be at the forefront of the gospel choir, Black Student Association and African-American Greeks was a great honor. It gave purpose to my life.”
Fleming is an associate professor of psychology and coordinator of school and mental health programs at Gardner-Webb University.
Barbara Hart spoke of the challenges of living during segregation in the South. She attended a segregated school, was denied access to the county library, and learned from used and tattered textbooks discarded by the white schools. “Yet in spite of all such adverse conditions, the students became successful leaders in the community, state and nation,” she said. Hart came to Appalachian to earn a master’s degree in special education. “I did not realize that I might become the first African-American to receive a master’s degree from Appalachian State.”
Hart’s career spanned 30 years working with the deaf and hard of hearing in North Carolina and California, including serving as a speech-language pathologist in several school districts.
Zaphon R. Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1977. He was a member of the faculty in the former Department of Political Science and Urban Planning and Geography and the university’s first assistant to the provost for minority affairs. While at Appalachian, he founded the Black Faculty and Staff Association. He currently is dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and professor of political science at Saint Augustine’s University.
In a video presentation, Wilson praised former Provost Harvey Durham for his minority recruitment efforts, which Wilson helped lead.
“We went out and recruited minority students and aggressively recruited students who were in graduate programs across the country to build a pipeline for faculty members at Appalachian and encouraged talented black students to go on to graduate school and consider a career in higher education,” he said.
“It was the beginning of this conversation about diversity and how important it was for all of the students on campus,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t just because of a black question or black issue. It was to expose all of the students to a diversity of faculty members, different backgrounds and different experiences to enrich the living and learning environment at Appalachian.”
Everts spoke of the university’s continuing work to support campus diversity. The Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity has been tasked with increasing the diversity of student, faculty and staff populations, and specific recruitment and retention strategies are underway to meet this goal.
In addition, 15 percent of the 2015 first-year class is comprised of students from traditionally underrepresented groups – an increase of 3 percentage points in one year. “The class of 2019 is the most diverse of any first-year class in Appalachian’s history. While we have accomplished much in a single year, there is still much to be done,” Everts said.
“Our Appalachian community embraces inclusivity, but we are not without our challenges. Discussions about race and equality are not always easy ones for a community to have, but I am confident that this community truly wants to have these discussions in open and honest ways. This is hard work, and I know we as a community are willing to do it,” she said.