Their clothes whipping in the wind, a group of students walked to the end of L’Enfant Plaza past monolithic government buildings to a park overlooking the Potomac River.
The circular park ringed in sycamore trees on the cusp of springtime is named for Benjamin Banneker, an African man who made astronomical calculations as part of the original surveying of Washington, D.C.
The group of West Virginia University students was guided by Anthony Browder, a local cultural interpreter, who pointed out African and African-American history sites throughout the nation’s capital. Beside the park along the riverbank was a location where slave ships docked.
In front of the White House, which is now home to the nation’s first African-American President, there used to be a slave auction block. roughout the capital city are obelisks and other symbols that point to humanity’s Egyptian history. At most of these sites, there are no markers.
Nicco Hamby, a WVU senior from Beckley, West Virginia, said the spring research trip was valuable for him in understanding his cultural history and learning information that you don’t usually find in history books.
“Know thyself,” he said. “It’s important because these people came before you. How can I not acknowledge someone who’s come before me?”
Hamby was in the first class of Academic STARS, a retention program forWVU African American students that Center for Black Culture and Research Director Marjorie Fuller brought to the University. rough the Center, Hamby found a community.
“It made me realize the importance of networking and finding people who can help you along your journey as well as you helping them along theirs,” he said.
Hamby is one of many students at the University who found a step up through the Center. STARS and the Washington, D.C., research trip are only the latest success stories of its 25-year history.
The Center has continuously increased its research capabilities and has helped black students understand their history and adjust to college.
Patrice Harris started her academic journey at WVU in 1978 and graduated with her medical degree in 1992. Now a WVU Distinguished Alumnus nationally recognized for her expertise in child psychiatry, she ranks the importance of establishing the Center, on a scale of one to ten, as a ten.
“Appreciation of diversity makes an organization stronger. On the microlevel, it is about supporting students so they can succeed at the University.”—Patrice Harris
The native of Bluefield, West Virginia, said she loves her state and her alma mater and believes they are both made stronger by embracing diversity. She pointed to the prevailing wisdom gleaned from research studies that shows this.
“Appreciation of diversity makes an organization stronger,” she said. “On the microlevel, it is about supporting students so they can succeed at the University.”
Fuller said the Center is a resource that helps students remain on track academically, provides research support on the African-American experience for faculty and students, and houses artifacts from African and African-American culture.
While the Center assists Admissions in recruiting students, its primary focus is retaining those students by acting as a support hub and advocating on their behalf. at’s accomplished through programs like STARS, regular gatherings and events, as well as relationship-building.
While students across the nation don’t complete college for many reasons, she doesn’t want a sense of isolation or abandonment to be the reason students leaveWVU.
“We do try to make sure that they are comfortable here socially, that they are not alone, that they feel they have a community that they can depend upon,” Fuller said. “They do not have to be black in order to find that community through us.”
When Neil Bucklew became president of WVU in 1986, the University had already undergone significant change in the area of affirmative action. Plans had been put in place to better serve minority populations.
Bucklew, who grew up in Morgantown, recalls how vital he felt a multicultural experience would be to WVU’s current and future students.
“They’re better prepared for their lives and their careers when the University has provided them experiences that represent the diversity of our country and the diversity of this global economy that they’re going to be asked to function in,” Bucklew said.
“I also believe strongly that the University has a responsibility to be an example for the state in so many arenas. I think we needed to be a bellwether; we needed to be an example. It helped other organizations accept that responsibility to become more diverse — to be more open on a wide range of issues.
“I think it’s one of those challenges for the University. It’s made great progress but it really can’t let its hand off that throttle,” he adds.