National Park College club promotes diversity
Faculty, staff, students and members of the community gathered at National Park College on Wednesday to celebrate diversity in the college’s first meeting of the 2017-18 “We Belong” guest speaker series.
The Cultural Diversity Awareness Club hosted Eric Higgins as Wednesday’s guest speaker in the Frederick M. Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences Dr. Martin Eisele Auditorium. Higgins retired in 2015 after 10 years as assistant chief and more than 30 years of service with the Little Rock Police Department.
Higgins has been an instructor since 2013 at Arkansas Baptist College, where he is also director of the Derek Olivier Research Institute for Prevention of Black on Black Violence. He is director of outcomes assessment for the national Our Kids Program and a volunteer instructor for The Exodus Project, a re-entry program for parolees.
“We are following our parents,” Higgins said. “We are following our friends and we are leading people behind us. You may sit here and say, ‘I’m not trying to lead anybody. Everybody can do their own thing. I’m just doing mine.’
“People are always watching. They want to see what you are doing. They want to be like you or they may say they don’t want to be this way. Where are you leading them?”
The Diversity Club was founded in 2000 by students of the college to provide members and the campus community with knowledge of diverse cultures and heritages. The campus organization is meant to make the college aware of the needs of minority students, ensure minority students have a voice in the planning of college activities and exist as an entity with which minority students can identify.
Math instructor Linda Franklin and English instructor Joan Henry have served as advisers for the club since it was founded. Darla Thurber, special assistant to the president, was a founding member of the club as a student and rejoined the club this year as a co-adviser.
Membership was extended to employees earlier this year. Employees pay an annual fee and serve as nonvoting support members. Students previously paid a membership fee, but the fee was eliminated as an effort to remove any barriers to participation in the club.
A membership drive in January recruited 19 employee members and 13 student members. Membership has averaged about two dozen students each year despite increased
representation of minority populations in the college as a whole versus local demographics.
Minority enrollment at the college averaged between 10.86 percent and 12.32 percent from 2003-2008. The rate increased to 18.34 percent for the 2008-09 academic year.
The lowest percent of minority enrollment since 2009 was 15.5 percent in 2010-11. The college set a new high with 20 percent minority enrollment during the 2015-16 academic year.
Thurber said the club is experiencing a revival year. The club co-sponsored a student activity in February for guests to view the film “Selma” and participate in a discussion as part of Black History Month. Four Coffee Club meetings were held in the spring semester with more planned for the fall semester for students and employees to get to know each other better.
Higgins said many people still think of the racial issues depicted in “Selma” as historical and not modern. He said citizens’ response to current racial issues is a crucial moment for the country.
“We are going to be united and we are going to show love or we’re not,” Higgins said. “Those are our options. What are you going to do? What love do you have in you? Are you leading people to respect others? Are you leading people to have peace with other people?”
Many of the club’s student leaders graduated in May. Student officers for president, vice president, recorder/treasurer and reporter/historian will be recruited during the fall semester.
Higgins encouraged guests on Wednesday to embrace the differences between one another and to respect those differences.
“Prejudice and racism, we are not born with that,” Higgins said. “We are born to be selfish, but we are not born to hate someone who looks dif- ferent. We learn that and we pass it on.”
LOVE SAVES: Student affairs staff member Stephanie Rizzo, center, participated in a skit Wednesday during the National Park College’s Cultural Diversity Awareness Club’s meeting in the Frederick M. Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences Dr. Martin Eisele Auditorium. Fellow employee members, from left, Nathan Looper, Kristal Mackey, Ricki Rebollar, Amy Benzi and Susan Millerd placed signs depicting negative traits, such as envy, around Rizzo until guest participant Landon Trusty, representing “love,” removed the other signs and carried her out of the auditorium.
WE BELONG: Eric Higgins, retired assistant chief of the Little Rock Police Department, visited National Park College Wednesday for the Cultural Diversity Awareness Club’s “We Belong” guest speaker series in the Frederick M. Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences Dr. Martin Eisele Auditorium. Higgins spoke about the power of love and respect for others.