By Pat Magness
In 2006, ethnic minority students made up only 5 percent of the Milligan College student body. By 2010, that figure had increased to 14 percent. (In raw numbers, there were 19 ethnic minority students in 1998 and 121 in 2012.) This dramatic increase was no accident. It began in prayer and was energized by a deep commitment to the idea that diversity is God’s intention and desire, that Milligan College needed to take a proactive role in bringing about diversity, and that a multipronged approach would be necessary.
The desire to be “a strong, vibrant, and diverse Christian collegiate community” was part of the long-range plan approved by the Milligan College board of directors. Strategic goals included creating a welcoming and diverse environment, increasing the level of cultural competency of all students, increasing multicultural classroom experiences, and increasing multicultural social and cocurricular experiences.
These goals translated into specific actions, under the direction of Lee Fier-baugh, vice president for enrollment management. The president appointed a Multi-Ethnic Resource Team, including faculty, administrators, staff, and students. The college hired a director of diversity and established an office of diversity services. The board added its first African-American trustee. These actions were coordinated with earlier steps, such as the Teacher Diversity Grant, the ethnic studies requirement that was part of the general education requirement for all students, and the faculty ethnic studies committee.
Milligan’s first director of diversity services, Nathaniel Moultrie, had the vision and ability to generate a great deal of local interest in Milligan’s diversity initiatives, and both he and then-President Don Jeanes met with local ministers and other community leaders from the African-American community to get their advice about how the college could best live out its commitment to diversity.
The centerpiece of the diversity initiatives and the key to their dramatic success was (and is) the Goah Diversity Scholars Program. This scholarship program provides full-tuition scholarships to eligible students who can enhance the diversity of the Milligan community and the educational experience of all students. The scholarships are entirely funded by the college, evidence of the deep institutional commitment to diversity.
The name of the scholarship is also significant: Betty Hill Goah was a local African-American woman who was well known as a community activist working on behalf of the poor, the sick, minorities, the homeless. She was also an alumna of Milligan College.
The Goah Scholars Program is much more than a scholarship. It includes academic, service, and leadership requirements. In the first year, there were 25 scholars. By the fall of 2013, there were 80 Goah Diversity Scholars impacting every area of campus life, including student government, theater, athletics, music, social events, worship, and the classroom. From the dining hall to the residence halls to the classrooms to the playing fields, Milligan College students live, work, learn, pray, and play in a diverse community.
When alumni return for a visit, they immediately see the difference. Faculty experience the increased depth of classroom conversation and the multiple points of view brought to bear on various issues. Current events in our country generate difficult conversations precisely because minority students are present on campus.
Energized, but Not Satisfied
Milligan College is energized by its success in developing a more multicultural student body, but it is not satisfied with what it has accomplished. Jeff Smith, currently the director of multicultural engagement, is working with Garland Young, vice president for academic affairs and dean, to help the college realize its goals more fully. Faculty development, curricular development, increasing diversity of the faculty, facilitating greater multicultural understanding—all of these remain important goals as the college continues to pursue a diverse community that provides a living picture of the kingdom of God.
Dr. Pat Magness is Professor Emerita of Humanities and English from Milligan College. After retiring from a long career of teaching at Milligan, she served one year as the interim director of the Goah Diversity Scholars Program.