Na­tional Park Col­lege club pro­motes di­ver­sity

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - JAY BELL

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.”

The Sen­tinel-Record/Mara Kuhn

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.

The Sen­tinel-Record/Mara Kuhn

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.

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