By Sheree Rogers
From its very beginning in 1847, Lawrence University has underscored the importance of educational opportunities for a diverse population. Before Wisconsin became a state, Boston merchant Amos A. Lawrence set out to establish a frontier school to afford “gratuitous advantage to Germans and Indians of both sexes.”
History has shown that the quest for diversity and providing equal opportunities for students from all backgrounds has been challenging and, at times, flawed. As an example, Lawrence’s first president, Reverend Edward Cooke, has been criticized for establishing a separate curriculum for female students that culminated in the degree of Lady Baccalaureate of Arts.
Since then, Lawrence has evolved from its pre-Civil War beginnings through the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and its merger with Milwaukee-Downer College, to a modern era where everincreasing global connections demand far greater knowledge and understanding of people from diverse backgrounds. Today, the pursuit of diversity on campus and in the classroom is viewed not as a goal, but as an essential requirement for optimum learning and for Lawrence as an institution.
It is difficult for today’s Lawrence student, born in the late 1980sand early ’90s, to fathom a Lawrence campus in a community that tolerated and, indeed, supported racism — a campus with one or two students of color in a city where people of color were not welcome.
That was Tom Kayser’s Lawrence campus slightly more than 50 years ago. The 1958 graduate, today a member of the college’s board of trustees, remembers Appleton as a “sundown town”— one of many intentionally all-white communities with covenants prohibiting the presence of non-whites after sunset. As Kayser recalls, the African- American cook at the Delta Tau Delta house had to leave Appleton after meals were prepared each evening. The cook was not welcome in many local stores and he couldn’t get a haircut. No wonder then, that the student population was virtually all white with only an occasional student of color.
It was shortly after graduation from Lawrence that Kayser, an ROTC second lieutenant, joined the Air Force, moved to San Antonio, Texas, and fully grasped the impact of racism.
“I spent all of my active duty Air Force years in the Jim Crow south. I saw the face of Jim Crow up close. It was ugly,” Kayser says. In 1959, the new Air Force officer was given the assignment of leading 60 troops in a parade in Luling, Texas. Upon arrival at the event Kayser was told — in graphic, racist terms — that the 20 African American troops who were part of his contingent would
not be allowed to march.
The racist directive was repeated several times for maximum impact and Kayser responded, “Everybody marches or nobody marches.”
Kayser and his troops prevailed that day, and the entire contingent marched in the parade without incident, but it was the first of many times he was enraged, embarrassed and humiliated by a society that imposed and encouraged different standards for Kayser, who is white, and his friends, many of whom were black.
Those years in Texas left an indelible imprint. Now an attorney practicing law in Minneapolis, Kayser spends a significant amount of time doing pro bono work on behalf of clients who are marginalized by society.
Last fall, he received the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota’s Earl Larson Award honoring attorneys who have pursued a lifelong commitment to justice and civil liberties work. (In 2002, former Vice President and Ambassador Walter Mondale received the Larson Award.) Kayser spearheaded a lawsuit for the ACLU-MN against the Osseo School District and Maple Grove
Senior High. The lawsuit argued that Maple Grove Senior High violated the Federal Equal Access Act when it refused to allow the student group, Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE), the same access to hall posters and the PA system as other student groups. In August 2008, a federal appeals court issued a permanent injunction, requiring Maple Grove Senior High to allow SAGE the same access as other student groups.
In 2010, under the leadership of President Jill Beck, Lawrence has amplified ongoing efforts to enroll a student body that is as ethnically and culturally diverse as possible. Though differences among members of the community sometimes lead to disagreement, students from varied backgrounds say they feel safe and welcome on the Lawrence University campus.
“For the most part, I feel very welcomed,” says Michael Pope ’12, an African American computer science and vocal performance double major. “There are some times when I feel isolated.” Pope says he occasionally draws stares from students that he attributes to his imposing 6′ 4″ size. “I’m wondering if my zipper is open or if there is something on my mouth. But when people get to know me they’ll know I’m a happy, jolly person.”
Pope, who grew up in Chicago and attended Lincoln Park High School with a diverse population of 2,300 students, finds a remedy to occasional feelings of isolation in the Black Organization of Students (BOS) where most of the group’s members are from large cities and similar backgrounds. “There are things that aren’t talked about with non-African American friends — stories of childhood, clothing style and music. In BOS we have a common experience.”
Pope said he was not looking at Wisconsin when he was selecting a college but a visit to Lawrence changed his mind. “Everyone seemed to be enjoying where they were.” His Chicago friends wondered how he would make the transition to a mostly white campus in a mostly white community, and Pope said the transition was different than he anticipated. “It wasn’t about me getting used to being around white people. It was about them getting used to me. This is me. I’m not going to try to be anyone else.”
Being black, said Pope, has not turned out to be as significant a factor in his daily campus life than the fact that he comes from a low-income family. While he attends Lawrence, Pope works three campus jobs: managing the technical crew at the Warch Campus Center, working at the Informational Technology helpdesk and working as a computer analyst. In addition, he is a soul and jazz singer and is a member of a barbershop quartet.
Pope believes most issues labeled as race issues are class issues, and he has no interest in trading places with wealthier classmates. “I’m happy with where I am. I see myself as a very independent person. I pay for my education and send money back home. My background has made me who I am, and I think I’m a better person for it.”
Lawrence’s Diversity Ascent
However diversity is defined — racial, cultural, socio-economic, religious, sexual orientation or gender — Steve Syverson, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, said it can only be good for the college.
Syverson joined Lawrence from Los Angeles in 1983, the transition presenting a bit of a culture shock. Syverson, whose wife, Diana, is Latina, recalls that Spanish-speaking individuals were rare in Appleton in the ’80s. “Early on when we heard someone speaking Spanish we would take special note and say ‘Who was that?’ Today, it’s not at all unusual and the community is continuing to change.”
In the ’90s, Syverson, with the assistance of the Lawrence administration and board of trustees, joined a local program called LEAP 2000, aimed at bringing greater diversity to the Fox Valley. As part of the program, minority students were hired as summer interns at local corporations hoping to expand their numbers of minority employees. Several of the interns went on to full-time employment at companies including Kimberly Clark, Aid Association for Lutherans (now Thrivent) and Miller Electric. “I was very interested in that program,” said James Fetterly ‘58 (pictured), a former trustee and Kayser’s roommate for three years. “I’ve always had a strong interest in racial equality.”
Fetterly and Kayser both attribute their attitudes about diversity to their experiences at Lawrence and to coming of age during the civil rights era. Both men and have since established scholarships at Lawrence — the James L. and Judith Walsh Fetterly Scholarship and the Thomac C. and Marlene C. Kayser Scholarship — which give preference to assisting students of color.
Today, the benefits of diversity on campus are more apparent than ever. “Of course it’s important educationally, but that’s just the beginning.” (See sidebar on facing page). According to Syverson, understanding the differences students will encounter after they leave Lawrence can be as important as what happens in the classroom. “We’re preparing students for the world they’ll be graduating into,” he says.
As the demographics of the nation become increasingly diverse, Syverson said it is important for Lawrence to continue to pursue greater diversity. “The community is changing, but Appleton is still a predominantly white community and Lawrence a predominantly white campus. If we were enrolling 20-25 percent students of color, I think at that level you start having a critical mass that builds a real comfort zone.”
In the 2009 freshman class, 15 percent of students were students of color, the greatest percentage in the college’s history. The admissions office has a number of diversity initiatives in place and is steadily enrolling increasing numbers of diverse students. This summer the college will host the College Horizons program for a second time. The program connects Native American students with college counselors from across the country.
Admission Possible, a Minneapolis-based program long supported by Kayser, focuses on making college possible for promising low income students and has built a close relationship with Lawrence’s Office of Admissions. Establishing relationships with organizations focused on improving the access that minority and low-income students have to college is one of the keys to increasing diversity over time, according to Syverson.
“The reality is, if we want to make a substantial difference in terms of enrollment of a diverse student population, we’ll need to be competitive financially,” Syverson said. “I think it’s a commitment we need to make because it improves the institution in the long term.”
The Lawrence Posse
One of the most visible programs bringing greater diversity to the Lawrence campus is Posse. In 2006, Lawrence established a partnership with the Posse Foundation, Inc., joining an elite group of 26 colleges and universities across the country associated with the program. Each year, a culturally diverse cohort of 10 student leaders from New York
City public high schools is selected to join Lawrence’s incoming freshman class.
Mei Xian Gong ’11, a native of Guangzhou, China, whose family now lives in New York City, remembers being nervous when she arrived at Lawrence. “I remember the chaos of moving in and being very tired and stressed, but there were people around to help me.” Having spent much of her senior year in high school getting to know the nine other members of her Lawrence Posse, Gong understands the value of a good support system. “I know that no matter how I do here, my Posse will always be a part of me and will help me to fit in.”
Gong, who is majoring in chemistry, attended a small high school near Chinatown, Manhattan. She stayed close to her cultural roots before arriving in Appleton. “It was when I came to Lawrence that I realized that American people are from different places, too. Not all Americans eat the same food. They eat many types of food and believe different things. Now that I am here, I’ve noticed that there are differences within the student population, even though most of the students are white. It has allowed me to see colors in whiteness.”
Gong is now a residence hall assistant in Hiett Hall and has her sights set on graduate school when she leaves Lawrence in 2011. What value does she see in diversity? She explains it in a way that Lawrentians can appreciate.
“Well, there is no meaning to Freshman Studies if everyone in the classroom has the same ideas, is there? How is it going to open our mind if everyone agrees with each other? We do need people with different experiences to add different points of view,” Gong said. “Whether we are talking about diversity or Plato, people need to see it in different lights. Maybe you don’t see it the same as me, but the way you see it is still important.”
By the time Joseph Green III ’86 arrived at Lawrence in 1982, the demographics had
begun to change from the Lawrence of 1956. He recalls a dozen African American students on campus and another 25-
50 students of color. And while racist attitudes among students were not overt, he recalls an environment that made it necessary for him to conform to the majority.
Green, an African American born on the south side of Chicago, attended preparatory school at Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, before choosing Lawrence. He credits his best friend’s father, Trustee Robert Buchanan ’62, for bringing him to a college that would prepare him for success. Still, given his experience at Wayland, Green knew there would be challenges. “I knew before I enrolled that I would encounter obstacles, some conscious and some not, from my white counterparts.”
The racial covenants of Appleton’s earlier days were gone, but the prevailing mind-set, according to Green, was one of cultural dominance that he explains this way: “It isn’t that I dislike you because you’re you, but rather that you must respect me because I am me.”
He allows that Lawrence tried hard to make the campus a comfortable place for minorities in the 1980s, but he likens the experience to being turned over to a new, very different, set of parents. “If you were raised by white parents for 20 years and all of the sudden you were turned over to black parents, no matter how hard they tried, it would be uncomfortable.”
Now working in Washington, D.C., as the director of institutional giving for the Ellington Fund, Green comes back to Wisconsin occasionally to visit.
“I like the fact that Jill Beck was hired as the first female president at Lawrence,” he said. Green believes Lawrence will become more diverse as Appleton and Wisconsin become more diverse. “It’s going to change but it will take a while.”
While there is more to be done to create greater diversity at Lawrence, many students believe Lawrence has a great deal to be proud of. Jared Gebel ’11 was looking for a college community that would be accepting and inclusive, something he did
not experience at another college in the Midwest during his freshman year. Two years later, he is the president of GLOW (Gay, Lesbian, Other or Whatever) at Lawrence. The Lawrence community, he said, seems a long way from the small town in Iowa where he grew up. “It’s a world of change when you get to college, and you’re here with people from all over the country and around the world. You encounter a lot of people that think differently. That was a very nice thing to come into.”
Gebel, a double major in music and identity studies, was pleased to discover that being gay or lesbian is a non-issue in the Lawrence community.
GLOW is an advocate for gay, lesbian and transgender concerns, and it provides a forum for highlighting and discussing issues that are happening on campus or anywhere in the world. It also serves as a social outlet. “The GLOW group house on campus has become a really important outlet for the community. It’s a safe and open space,” Gebel said.
“People who come to Lawrence tend to be pretty open-minded,” said Kyle Brennan ’11.
“But we can always do more.” Brennan, double majoring in music and history, is one of the straight members of GLOW. He sees an opportunity for GLOW to push the Lawrence campus beyond acceptance of minorities toward advocacy.
To those who say Lawrence is not diverse, Brennan counters that there are many kinds of diversity and not all are apparent when looking across Main Hall Green.
“I think the lack of diversity that people may be seeing isn’t so much a lack of diversity, but a lack of one kind of diversity. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to become more diverse, but there is a great deal of diversity here.”
NOH8 is a message of equality. In early 2010, Lawrence students joined an international photo campaign protesting the passage of California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. The campaign began with portraits of everyday Californians from all walks of life and grew worldwide.
Clockwise from top left: Lauren Mimms ’12, Isake Smith ’11, Andrew Hawley ’11, Jordan Stein ’13, Nik Ross ’11 and Kaleesha Rajamantri ’10.
Diversity in the Classroom
The premise that diversity benefits education is not new. It has long been held that the exchange of ideas and opinions is most beneficial when a diverse group is involved. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor endorsed the concept when she wrote the majority opinion in Grutter vs. Bollinger, 2003, stating diversity leads to educational benefits for all because of a “robust exchange of ideas” (U.S. 539, 17).
Rob Beck, a visiting professor of educational psychology at Lawrence, conducted research in the 2009 Fall Term that set out to prove or disprove the theory. “For a researcher, when somebody makes a claim, the first impulse is to say, ’Well, how do you know? Where’s the evidence?’”
Beck, with the aid of Lawrence students and staff, recorded and completed analysis of 16 transcripts of academic discussions involving 61 students in the college’s Freshman Studies program. Two classes with 25 percent ethnic and racially diverse students were compared to two non-diverse classes.
“All the students took part in interpretive discussions intended to voice meanings about great books, including Plato’s “Republic”, Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, works by a scientist (Einstein) and a composer (Messiaen),” Beck said.
Quantifying the conversations was no small task, which may be why educators often rely on their memory to assess the outcome of a classroom discussion. According to Beck, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to accurately recall what happens in a Freshman Studies classroom. “It was staggering. There were 450 changes of speaker in 70 minutes.”
Those taking part in the analysis looked first to who was speaking in the various discussions, and then assessed the type of information the speaker was sharing. They identified “truth claims” and then the evidence used to back up those claims, to assess the quality of the dialog. They recorded who helped move the conversation forward by adding to previous claims or by asking questions. In the end, they developed a scoring system to help evaluate the more than 30 kinds of statements that were made during the classroom discussions.
The research resulted in a paper, “The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number: An Experimental Study of the Effects of Racial and Ethnic Diversity on Liberal Arts College Discussions.”
Among the findings:
• Students in the diverse classes spoke nearly twice as much as students in the non-diverse classes.
• Students in the diverse classes contributed nearly 70 percent of the total number of words in the discussion, while in the non-diverse classes students spoke a little less than half the time.
• The diverse classes had a significantly larger average number of students who spoke in the development of themes of the discussions.
• About three times as many students in the diverse classes interacted with each other than in the non-diverse classes.
• Students in the non-diverse classes referred more often to the works in providing evidence and used more complex arguments, but only four students contributed one-third of all arguments.
• Students in the diverse classes expressed more opinions and referred to personal experiences in making their claims.
• Diverse class students were more responsive to other discussants’ statements: they followed up with proportionally more high-level questions, re-phrasings, and agreements and a greater number of elaborations/clarifications.
• Approximately 25 percent of the students in the diverse classes also included evidence backing their opinions, whereas less than 10 percent of the students in the non-diverse classes did so.
• There were no differences in participation between diverse and non-diverse students in the diverse classes.
Beck sent a summary of the research paper to Justice O’Connor and received a thoughtful reply via e-mail, which read: “Thank you for sending me a summary of the research done on the benefit of ethnic and racial diversity in college academic groups. As you might imagine, I was delighted to find support for my assumptions. Sincerely, Sandra Day O’Connor.”
The research sample was small and Beck acknowledges that more study is needed to assess further the impact of diversity in classroom discussions, but he said the initial findings are important.
“We concluded that the diverse classes provided more value — the ‘greatest good to the greatest number‘ — to students than the non-diverse classes,” Beck said. “It is more effective to facilitate wide participation and let everyone into the discussion and then support increased levels of critical thinking, rather than to let a few students dominate at a high level and pretty much freeze everyone else out.”