By Katie Gager, Student Reporter
For one ACU alumna, an encouraging conversation in the middle of Wal-Mart made an impact she always will remember.
“I was not well at the time,” said Mallorie Frank (’08). “There was nothing physical, I just wasn’t in a good place and I had to either get out of Abilene or I was going to go insane. He stopped me in the middle of Wal-Mart and asked, ‘How are you?’ He saw straight through me and knew I was not well.”
Frank is referring to the director of youth and family ministry Robert Oglesby, her faculty mentor. After taking a class he taught and getting to know him better, Frank has found Oglesby has become an important mentor in her life.
For Frank, an African American, it is not about race, gender or cultural background. It is about finding people who genuinely make a difference when no one else cares, she said.
“We have a multiplicity of cultures on our campus,” said George Pendergrass, director of Multicultural Enrichment. “But when we help students and faculty to learn to appreciate each other, it gives them a bond and means of connection that we’ve never seen before.”
Throughout the years, ACU has striven to take the initiative in reflecting the moral changes the Christian community hopes to see enacted worldwide when it comes to racial relations. Within the last 40 years of the university’s history, the student population has grown in diversity, and the administration has taken steps to ensure the faculty also reflects this diverse student body to provide opportunities for mentorships.
Statistics in childcare state having an adult who can be depended upon and trusted makes the biggest difference in a child’s life, Pendergrass said.
“This is very important, and the only problem here at ACU is that there is really not that many African-American faculty and staff to connect with some of our students,” he said. “We are sharing with them the need to have them involved in student’s lives.”
Pendergrass said he thinks it is through this increased diversity in the faculty of ACU that the administration will be able to provide further mentoring of minority and, specifically, black students.
According to No Ordinary University by John Stevens, president emeritus, the university hired John Whitely, the first African-American faculty member, in 1971. Since then the university has striven to not only hire more black faculty members, but people of other minorities as well.
The Office of Institutional Effectiveness reported as of fall 2008, the university has hired as professors, assistant professors or instructors three Asian Americans, 13 African Americans and six Hispanic Americans. This means an increase of 9.6 percent of the total faculty make up in the 2008-09 year from 2.5 percent in the 1994-95 school year.
“We are conscious to seek out persons of high quality and of color for new positions,” Provost Dwayne VanRheenen said. “The numbers are not where we want them to be, but they are improving. We need similar percentage in faculty as the student population because of this idea of mentorship.”
Within the last 10 years, the university has created a program called Minority Fellows that focuses on sending minority faculty members off to receive their doctorates at various universities, VanRheenen said.
“For people to apply, they need to have a master’s degree in order to demonstrate they can do work at a graduate level,” he said.
Since the program began, the university has funded nine doctoral fellows.
“A place like the Office of Multicultural Enrichment would be a great place to match and facilitate mentorship between faculty members and students,” VanRheenen said.
The Office of Multicultural Enrichment already has begun work on creating a program called Anchor, which focuses on matching upper classman minority students with minority students new to campus.
“One part we want to implement in the first year is if we have a successful match, then the next year we want to connect those same students with a faculty member,” Pendergrass said. “When you come to a campus that is predominantly white, you need to find a place to anchor yourself and identify with your own culture. Especially for African Americans finding themselves in West Texas, where they are a minority, and trying to find people like them who have the same interests.”
Pendergrass said he knows many influential men and women that hold positions on this campus who can provide mentorship to students of color.
“Men like Steven Beck, Stephen Moore and Jason Morris. If you connect with people like that, you can’t help but develop quality in your life,” Pendergrass said.
Dr. Steven Moore, associate professor of English, has become one of the more prominent and apparent mentor-type professors on campus. He connects with students not only on an academic level, but also on a social level.
“Pendergrass is trying to develop a program that will help all people, but especially those on the outside, those in a minority,” Moore said. “It does matter and it does change lives. If someone is in this environment and feels left out, it’s very crucial they find someone to become that anchor in their life.”
This world still has problems with race relations, he said. However, Moore said he thinks ACU is taking the initiative to better the relations on campus. ACU students will be equipped to take what they have learned in this environment and apply it to the real world.
“One day we will be at a place where we won’t have to raise these questions,” Moore said. “And I think that day is around the corner.”
While Frank’s faculty mentor is not of her race, she said she thinks for some minority students it is necessary to have mentors of the same race.
“They may need to see someone who looks like them, and that’s OK,” Frank said. “They may feel they need to be paired with someone who is African American because where they are in their life, they may not feel that another race could help them.”
She said she thinks that no matter where students are in their lives, a mentor can provide guidance and encouragement that brings them through the hardest times.
“I hate that we only see how we look and not who we are,” Frank said. “I mean we are all different, so all of our situations are different anyways, and we can all provide encouragement for one another.”