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Meet BC’s Newest Administrative Committee Member

Meet BC’s Newest Administrative Committee Member

In an effort to continue seeking the College’s Great Commitments, “. . . the kinship of all people and to provide interracial education with a particular emphasis on understanding and equality among blacks and whites,” (Berea College), the Board of Trustees recommended and appointed Linda Strong-Leek, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion.

Strong-Leek’s appointment is particularly important because it is a new position in BC’s history, and the first Administrative Committee position for an African American female. (Bernadine Douglas also joined the Administrative Committee on July 1 as the Vice President for Alumni and College Relations). Strong-Leek is a Fulbright Scholar, an author, and a graduate of North Carolina Central University (B.A. in English and an M.A. in English and Educational Administration), and Michigan State University (Ph.D. in English).

Prior to her new appointment, Strong-Leek worked closely with various centers on campus, including, but not limited to the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, Center for Transformative Learning, Francis and Louise Hutchins Center for International Education, Center for Excellence in Learning through Service in her role as the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs; this is a position she still holds.

Strong-Leek’s responsibilities now includes: membership on the Administrative Committee, collaborating in hiring processes, oversight of the Title VII/IX Office and Coordinator, initiatives to support diversity, inclusivity, and interracial and coeducational aspects of the Great Commitments of the College, etc. A few weeks ago, the Pinnacle had the privilege to chat with V.P Strong-Leek.

Pinnacle: Growing up, were you always interested in Academia? What drew you to Academia?
Strong-Leek: I was always a voracious reader. As a child, I loved to read, I did not know you that you could actually get paid to read and study. I thought I wanted to be a poet growing up, but when I went to college, I met professors in English and Philosophy, and other fields of study. It was not intentional, but I was intrigued by their knowledge, and drawn to the academic space. So, it was not until I went to college that I knew I wanted to be an academic.

Pinnacle: When we talk about diversity on college campuses, we are often talking about racial diversity. How important are other kinds of diversity, like religious, gender, nationality and socioeconomic diversity?
Strong-Leek: All forms of diversity really makes us who we are, not just at Berea, but as people in the world. I grew up as a Pentecostal, and it was a very specific experience, and in some ways it saved me from a lot of things, but also limited me from a lot of experiences. My experiences during my undergraduate and graduate education broadened my views. For example, one of my first year professors in college was an atheist, and on the first day of class he said, “There is no God;” that was unsettling to me. However, I had a chance to get to know him as an individual, and we became great friends, and respected each other very much. Although I was not able to convince him that there is a God, and he was not able to convince me that there is no God, it was one of the best lessons for me—I met someone with a different belief system than myself, and knew that he was a good person. This very professor walked me through graduate school as well. He did not have to do that, but he became a great mentor to me, although we had very different belief systems. When we close ourselves off to other people and their experiences, we limit ourselves in ways that can be harmful to us. So, diversity is very important regardless of individual’s religious, gender and gender identification, nationality, sexuality, or socioeconomic status—we all should respect and learn from one another.

Pinnacle: Most Colleges and universities have made it part of their mission to increase both student and faculty diversity. BC’s student population is significantly more diverse than faculty and staff, how important is faculty and staff diversity here on campus?
Strong-Leek: Yes, diversity is very important in the faculty and staff here in Berea. This is especially for our students because when we meet each other, it helps to challenge and break down stereotypes that some people may have about other people, and also challenges them do better. Growing up, and while in college, many of my professors were African American females because I attended a Historically Black College (HBCU) for my undergraduate education. These women were an embodiment of what I aspired to be, and that was very important in my professional development. However, I have also had wonderful mentors who are not African American women, and that, too, is important. We must not limit ourselves, but we also need to see ourselves in positions of power.

Pinnacle: Some people argue that it is a disservice to students and the community to assert that “one can only successfully relate to, or be comfortable with, people that looks like them.” What are your thoughts on this assertion?
Strong-Leek: People of various racial backgrounds have had different experiences and sometimes there are moments when one feels like they want to be close to a person who absolutely understands that experience and what they are going through–without having to explain, interpret, and validate themselves to the other person. So, I think that there are moments where this assertion is valuable. And although this affirmation is important, it should not be the only experiences a person has; otherwise they will limit themselves from other great possibilities. Sometimes we have to understand that individuals may be doing the very best that they can, and we really cannot always foresee what a difference others can make in our lives until we give them that opportunity.

Pinnacle: Going forward what would you like see on campus?
Strong-Leek: I would like to see a more diverse staff and faculty. I would like to see people listening to and respecting each other more, and honoring diversity in and out of classroom. Our geographical position may limit some of these possibilities, but once we get people here, and they meet our amazing s
students and understand our mission, they will fall in love with our community. There is no place like Berea College because of the commitments we have to our students—to get them through whatever they need to be successful. We as a community (faculty and staff) also have to be open and willing to listen to students more often, and open ourselves to change, and not just tolerate others, but value the experiences of those who are not like us.

Pinnacle: Mission statement; “God hath made of one blood, all peoples of the earth.” How has this mission statement influenced your life as an individual?
Strong-Leek: From my childhood, I was taught that everyone is valuable. Our mission statement embodies what my family taught me growing up. So, I celebrate it and continue working towards this goal on a daily basis, because we are all the children of our Creator.

Pinnacle: Regarding your appointment, Berea College President Lyle Roelofs, said “Linda brings impressive skills of leadership, scholarship, and advocacy to a role that is new for the College.” What do you think about such a graceful recommendation?
Strong-Leek: It was humbling. I really appreciate working with President Roelofs and learning from him. He is very thoughtful, and helps you to think through some of the complexities that comes with any task. I appreciate it and do hope that I can live up that estimation of me.

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