Friday, March 9, 2018
Category: Students and Alumni
Community of Reconciliation at Messiah College
By Sarah Fertsch ’18
DR. TODD A. ALLEN
One hundred years ago, in 1918, the first underrepresented student graduated from Messiah College. Rachel Flowers, Messiah College’s first black student, now has a scholarship dedicated in her name and a week of celebration in her honor in September. Messiah’s commitment to inclusion and reconciliation has come a long way since then. Today, the College boasts a web of multicultural programs and opportunities for all students to thrive.
Todd Allen, special assistant to the president on diversity affairs and professor of communication, says that Christians are called to reconciliation work. Allen was first exposed to Messiah as an undergraduate student at Geneva College in the late 1980s, when he was a guest at the National Christian Multicultural Conference. After graduation, he felt called to work with his friend Kim Phipps, and later came to work at Messiah in 2017.
“I was looking to start a new chapter,” said Allen. “In this role, I provide oversight to the College’s strategic approach to diversity and inclusion.”
Allen works to implement the College’s diversity strategic plan, which is founded on four key elements: foundational values, campus climate, compositional diversity and educational diversity (pluralism). “This is a three-part journey that requires a presence of diversity, inclusive excellence and reconciliation,” he said. “As a campus, we are called to reconciliation, but as Christians we are called to love God and our neighbor.”
Allen says Phipps has always been passionate about reconciliation. “Reconciliation is a part of our rhetorical DNA,” he recalls Phipps saying. He says he looks forward to working with faculty and students to bring forward the call for inclusive excellence. “The challenge is not to become complacent, because this is ongoing work,” he says.
Christina Thomas ’14 devoted her time at Messiah College to reconciliation. Serving as student vice president of diversity and the research assistant to Professor Bernardo Michael, president of the Multicultural Council, Thomas describes herself as a student activist.
She says she is thankful for her mentor Bernardo Michael, who encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree and be an advocate for students of color. “He encouraged me and pushed me outside my comfort zones,” she said.
Today, Thomas is pursuing a doctoral degree in history from Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation will spotlight Geraldine Wilson, Rachel Flowers’ niece, who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Tour and other civil rights protests. After she graduates, she hopes not only work as a professor, but also help high school students learn and understand black history and culture.
Esther Rosier ’18 is proud of Messiah. A political studies major, she spent her first two years at Messiah researching the life of Flowers, and today serves as the president of the Black Student Union (BSU).
“I was tired of trying to fit in and I just want to be me,” Rosier said. “My mission for BSU is to welcome all people and for everyone to feel comfortable.”
Rosier beamed as she described her College experience so far. She embraces her Haitian heritage and says that BSU gives her a place to be herself. After she graduates in May, Rosier hopes to spend a year abroad in Haiti and serve the community. She then places to earn her master’s degree in race relations and work at the United Nations.
Gina Gillium ’83 speaks to the members of BSU every February. The biology graduate says she impresses on students how to be successful at Messiah and in life beyond. Gillium, now an active alumni council member and donor, has played a significant role in the development of the Black Student Union.
“When I was a student, only one percent of students were African or Latin American,” she said. “I moved from Philadelphia to Grantham, and when my friends and I went into town, we would get stares.”
Gillium sought to build a community of students to celebrate black history and culture. She worked to start the second charter of the Black Student Union but received some pushback from student government. There was a high level of international students from Africa at the time, and some student leaders thought that BSU should assimilate into their clubs.
Once BSU was finally approved, the organization developed programs and events to educate students on black history and culture. They organized a gospel choir, sang at chapel, brought in lecturers and musicians, and created a welcoming environment for students of all ethnicities.
“All my professors were so supportive and I have fond memories at Messiah,” Gillium said. “It warms my heart that BSU and Messiah’s diverse mission are still thriving.”
To learn more about diversity at Messiah, go here.