Spring 2020 was a time of deep concerns.
The COVID-19 pandemic raged across the United States, exposing layers of social inequities our country had yet to confront. Citizens, with face masks and passion in tow, marched in protest of police brutality toward Black Americans and other people of color. Death had seeped, it seemed, into every corner of life.
Despite the distance between us (between Arizona and Nebraska), we found comfort in our hours-long phone calls with one another. The calls were a space to share our grief and fear about a world we felt too small to change for the better.
We wondered how the current state of the country would affect the college when we returned in August. Countless universities had released statements affirming that, yes, Black lives do matter. Many also addressed their own shortcomings in confronting racism on their campuses and provided action steps to improve their anti-racism work. The calls for justice were so numerous that silence echoed loudest of all.
Central College remained silent.
Or so we thought they would, until June 3, when an email from President Mark Putnam appeared in our inboxes. Its subject read: “We Must Do More.” Addressed to the entire campus community, he decried the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. He urged us all to do our part in standing up against racist violence, referencing the college’s Welcome Statement. The gesture was appreciated, and the intentions were no doubt well-meaning, but we were disappointed the email said nothing about how the college, and its most powerful leaders, would do more.
Not confident we would have the courage to actually send it, we drafted a reply to President Putnam. We expressed our frustration with his statement’s passivity. We included links to petitions, organizations to donate and educational resources about systemic racism, asking him to share them with the Central community at large. Fueled by the adrenaline of hitting that powerful “send” button, we shared our response on social media, encouraging other students to email it to him as well.
The following day, President Putnam reached out to Yana, who had been elected student body president for the 2020-21 academic year. The two arranged a meeting, and she discussed her concerns as a student of color at Central. She stressed her desire to spark conversations between students, faculty and staff that would lead to a genuine change in making campus culture more accepting of diversity. The college needed to confront the prejudice and discrimination that occurred within it, whether it be racism, sexism or homophobia. We wanted to mobilize the community to act, but had no idea where to start — or if we were even allowed to start at all.
We were put in contact with Kristi Leonard ’97, assistant dean of students, who leads Central’s recently formed Building a Culture of Inclusion initiative. At the time, it consisted only of Central employees. Their work had been postponed due to the pandemic, but when the project resumed they wanted to involve students. We were offered the opportunity to share our goals and perspective with the employee members and lead student recruitment for the initiative.
After weeks of advertising — from social media posts to speaking directly to full classes of students — we held our first informational meeting. Nineteen students signed up, far exceeding our expectations. Due to high interest, we scheduled a second meeting and 10 more students joined. Students were assigned to one of the initiative’s five working groups: recruiting and hiring, Pella community, communication, professional development and academics and curriculum. Each group consists of students, faculty and staff who collaborate to educate, program and recommend policy centered around inclusivity and celebrating cultural diversity.
Fewer than 30 students might not seem like a lot. But these students are driven and dedicated to making Central a place where everyone sees the beauty in our diversity. Perhaps most important, these students have the empathy to take on other students’ struggles as their own. We could not be more grateful for their willingness to join us in this work — because to accomplish real transformation, it will take slow, difficult work.
When we graduate in May, we know the work we’ve begun will be nowhere close to complete. The pursuit of justice is never complete; once justice is found, we must preserve it. If the young foundations of this project are the legacy we leave behind, that is enough for us. We have faith that others will make sure it grows.
Building a Culture of Inclusion Initiative
In Spring 2018, Central started reviewing the college environment and looking at how it could strengthen its efforts in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. An outcome of this work was the development of an initiative to focus on building a culture of inclusion. Faculty, staff and students leading this initiative are:
Faculty and Staff
- Obinna Agomo, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach
- Cyndi Boertje, Tutoring Coordinator
- Joel Brummel, Chaplain
- Jeanette Budding, Prospect Management and Research Coordinator
- Ellie Burns, Director of Pre-College Programs
- Brian Campbell, Director of Sustainability Education and Partnerships
- Jessica Klyn de Novelo ’05, Assistant Dean for Career Development and Civic Engagement
- Ellen Du Pre, Professor of Biology
- Cheri Doane ’98, Director of Civic Engagement
- Peggy Fitch, Title IX Coordinator and Equity Officer
- Sara Shuger Fox, Associate Professor of Exercise Science
- Tori Fyfe ’20, AmericCorps Civic Action Coordinator
- Elizabeth Golovatski, Assistant Professor of Physics
- Jenae Jenison ’11, Director of External Engagement
- Kate Kanne Smith, Assistant Professor of Theatre
- Matthew Kaye, Assistant Dean of International Education
- Denise Lamphier, Director of Integrated Marketing Communications and Media
- Kristi Leonard ’97, Assistant Dean of Students
- Nathan Manchester ’18, Admission Representative
- Jamel McKnight ’19, Admission Representative
- Paulina Mena, Associate Professor of Biology
- Katherine Nesbit, Assistant Professor of English
- Donna Newendorp, Associate Director of Financial Aid
- Alicia O’Brien, Senior Associate Athletics Director and Associate Head Women’s Softball Coach
- Drew Readel ’13, Assistant Director of Admission
- Matthew Schirm, Head Baseball Coach and Lecturer of Exercise Science
- Charles Strey, Dean of Students
- Michelle Wilkie, Director of Development
- Carol Williamson, Vice President for Student Development
- Sean Wiseman, Assistant Dean of Students
- Amy Young, Associate Professor of German
- Yuan Bank ’22
- James Boatright ’21
- Sharaden Boggs ’23
- Natalie Brader ’22
- Xavier Bryant ’21
- Josh Cheek ’21
- Sami Craig ’21
- Quinn Deahl ’23
- Matthew Dickinson ’21
- Lizzie Edens ’21
- Bridgette Edwards ’21
- Marin Harrington ’21
- KC Huffman ’21
- Hailey Hunter ’24
- William Isiminger ’21
- Kaitlyn Isom ’24
- Maggie Langenfeld ’21
- Nicole Lyons ’21
- Laurynn Mize ’21
- Dani Neu ’21
- Gabby Petruzello ’24
- Cynthia Rangel ’21
- Yana Rouse ’21
- Cheyanne Scholl ’21
- Erica Shumaker ’21
- Allison Stuenkel ’22
- Destiny Swallom ’21
- Jacob Wegner ’21
- Abigail Woolfolk ’22