Prentice Ashford, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, will leave the university after spring break to serve as dean of intercultural development at Lipscomb University in Nashville.
Ashford grew up in Abilene and graduated from ACU in 2013 with a degree in family studies. He served in the Center for Building Community for a year before taking the role of the director of the Office of Multicultural Enrichment, as OMA was called in 2014.
Since he started the job only one year after graduating, Ashford said he faced the challenge of earning the respect of his peers and other older staff members. He also said his education in family studies helped him understand how people come from different backgrounds and walks of life that influence how people interact with the world.
“It helped me realize you can’t be mad at how people were raised,” Ashford said. “You can only challenge them and then kind of judge based off of how they respond once they’re open to new ways of life and people.”
He said his goal was to make the purpose of the office clear and to get student groups to make their purposes clear as well.
“It’s for student support and education,” Ashford said. “The past two years, I’ve had more people reach out to OMA as a resource.”
Conversations about racial issues began to change as early as 2013, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin brought national attention to racial issues, Ashford said. His role became more about “peacemaking,” he said, teaching students conflict resolution and how to respond in conversations about racial tension. The Adams Center for Teaching and Learning and other departments on campus began asking for assistance to understand diversity issues. Ashford helped create more student involvement in the office, starting with a single student internship and building to a student council in the fall.
“Just getting students empowered enough to lead efforts, that’s been pretty big,” Ashford said.
Ashford said he really loved helping students find a voice through little projects like the “There’s a Difference” documentary, the “Broken Views of Broken People” photo project and the open-mic demonstration in response to the blackface video.
Danial Vargas, graduate accounting student from Carrolton, worked with Ashford as a volunteer for OMA for three years and as a graduate assistant helping develop future OMA programs. He said both students and faculty of all ethnicities felt comfortable going to Ashford for help.
“There were so many students who would come to him for advice,” Vargas said. “He could connect with pretty much anybody.”
Lindsie Lawson, a senior global studies and Spanish major from The Colony, served as an OMA intern last year and now works with Ashford on the OMA student board. She said Ashford’s strengths included his ability to listen and include many different students.
“He made us not just a team, but a family,” Lawson said. “A lot of people these days want to be ‘colorblind,’ but he says it’s about seeing color and embracing it.”
She said although many students will miss his presence on campus, Ashford set a foundation for student leaders that will continue the work he started.
Like ACU, Lipscomb is affiliated with Churches of Christ. Ashford will serve as head of Lipscomb’s Office of Intercultural Development which oversees student minority groups on the campus. Lipscomb made national headlines last semester over a racial incident involving a cotton centerpiece. Ashford said his positive and negative experiences at ACU will help him as he takes this new role, especially being able to understand the campus climate and gauge the attitudes of students.
He will move to Nashville with his wife Trisha and three children.
A new director of OMA has not yet been hired. Dr. Chris Riley, vice president for Student Life, said plans for the organizational structure of OMA will include discussions with the Diversity Task Force, a committee of faculty, staff and students formed as part of the university’s Strategic Plan.