The epiphany I experienced upon announcing my wish to write a book on student affairs and social movements became a goal to pursue. (read part 1: Student Affairs and Social Change)
Despite feeling discouraged because of the initial reception to my book idea, I kept talking with people about the dream.
On a bright spring day in 2000, I had breakfast with Bud Thomas and John Blackburn at the hotel across the street from the NASPA office on Connecticut Avenue. They wanted to talk about their plans as Board members of the NASPA Foundation.
After discussions about the business of the NASPA Foundation, the conversation turned to their experiences as chief student affairs administrators at the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Alabama, respectively.
The student affairs and civil rights book had not been on my mind at this breakfast meeting. However, when John Blackburn said that he was the Dean in Student Affairs from 1956 to 1969 at the University of Alabama, it was as if a door opened that I had been trying to enter. John and I had several conversations after this pivotal breakfast meeting.
I learned that during the fraught months and days around integrating southern universities, John was literally on the front lines. In fact, he played a major role in the relatively peaceful entrance of James Hood and Vivian Malone as the first African American students to integrate the University of Alabama. While Governor George Wallace was blocking the doors, John Blackburn was setting up the student leadership social infrastructure to bring Hood and Malone into the academic community of the University.
When I told John about the thoughts I had about a book on the experiences of student affairs administrators during the civil rights era, he told me that the only way my idea would have legs was if I had conversations not only with him but with a sterling group of senior and retired chief student affairs officers such as James J. Rhatigan, now vice president emeritus of student affairs at Wichita State University; James Appleton, now president emeritus at University of the Redlands; and Dave Ambler, now vice chancellor emeritus at University of Kansas.
What I heard during these conversations made it impossible not to follow through on this project. This book had to be written. I floundered for a while about how to move forward in making the book a reality. I talked with some of my professors at Drew University about how to get started. I talked with NASPA staff and Board members about what such an undertaking would require. Unlike my initial conversations about the idea at the beginning of the year, these new conversations were much more encouraging because I had the support of some of the most respected senior administrators in the field of student affairs.
Energized and motivated, on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 3, 2000, I made a phone call to NASPA Historian Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle. Hearing my enthusiasm for this publication, she graciously agreed to help find a way to further explore the idea even though she was busy working on her dissertation at the time. She said that two of her colleagues, Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Susan B. Twombly, might have interest in this topic as well. She gave me their phone numbers and I could feel the momentum of my intentions.
With a lot of hope, faith, and hard work on the part of the authors and others, three years after my phone call on May 3, 2000, the book, Reflecting Back, Looking Forward: Civil Rights and Student Affairs was published by NASPA in 2004 marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision to outlaw segregation in public schools.
This historically rich and relevant book includes 18 first-person narratives from senior student affairs administrators, current and retired, from all over the country and from all types of colleges and universities.
In addition to recording the history of the remembered experiences of Student Affairs professionals, the hope was that there would be lessons learned that would be helpful to Student Affairs professionals today and in the future.
Even though the political and judicial environments are different in many aspects today, there are lessons to be studied and learned from the narratives in this book. An example of the climate in which student affairs professionals are working today is the court decision to charge Oberlin College and Conservatory $36.59 million for punitive damages as a result of a 2016 protest that Oberlin students staged at a local bakery. The College argued unsuccessfully that they should not be held liable for failing to censor the speech of its students.
I sincerely appreciate all those who made contributions to this work through sharing their personal experiences related to student activism. And I will be forever indebted to Lisa Wolf-Wendel who took the lead in working with her co-authors—Susan B. Twombly, Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle, Kelly Ward, and Joy L. Gaston-Gayles*—and for the entire team’s incredible contribution to higher education. I also appreciate the team’s pressing the project forward with the urgency necessitated by gathering the stories from these student affairs leaders while they were still here to tell them first-hand. In addition to the passing of so many of those featured in the book, we also lost co-author Kelly Ward to a tragic accident in 2018.
The lessons I learned from this experience are, first, to dare to take the initiative to pursue your ideas and, second, to have faith that your power of will can motivate others to share your dream and make it a reality.
* Lisa Wolf-Wendel is currently Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of Higher Education Administration in the School of Education at the University of Kansas. Susan B. Twombly is Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies in the School of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Kansas. Kathryn Tuttle is Associate Vice Provost Emerita at the University of Kansas. At the time of her passing, Kelly Ward was Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Professor of Higher Education at Washington State University. Joy L. Gaston-Gayles is Professor & Senior Advisor for the Advancement of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at North Carolina State College of Education.
The book is available for purchase through the NASPA bookstore.