Event set to discuss GV’s history of diversity

Courtesy: African American Alumni Chapter

Courtesy: African American Alumni Chapter

Amy McNeel

Grand Valley State University was established in 1960, right in the midst of the civil rights movement. At the time of opening, GVSU was predominantly white, and it wasn’t until the end of the civil rights movement that African Americans were truly integrated into the GVSU community. Years later, diversity is not only celebrated at GVSU, but is also a major priority. 

To celebrate the diversity of the GVSU community, as well as recognize the history and bravery behind it, the GVSU African American Alumni Chapter is partnering with the Division of Inclusion and Equity to sponsor an event called “Paving the Way for Future Generations: Stories of African Americans Who Were Firsts at Grand Valley.” The event is taking place on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 5:45 p.m. at the Alumni House Perry Dining Room. 

“The evening is designed to give students an opportunity to learn more about Grand Valley’s history and the role that African Americans played in helping lay the foundation of diversity at our university,” said Chris Barbee, Director of Alumni Relations. 

The event will include a panel of Grand Valley African American Pioneers who will share their stories and backgrounds. The main idea is to provide GVSU students, faculty and staff with the opportunity to learn more about the courageous men and women who helped shape the university into what it is today. 

“Alumni moderator Victoria Stevenson, ’01, of the African American Alumni Chapter will lead the discussion in a talk show format focusing on the panelists’ experiences, integrating the university and how it helped shape who they are,” Barbee said. “We’ll also get to hear about their lives after Grand Valley and how they’ve stayed connected to the university after all these years. There will also be a slide presentation that will run throughout the evening that will list other African American firsts at the university.” 

The panel will include Danny Poole, ’71, first African American Scholarship Athlete; James Moore, ’67, first African American male student; Curt Jones, first African American male professor; Julianne Vander Wyngaard, first African American female professor; and Cheryl Franks, who is representing her father, Dr. Julius Franks, founding member of Grand Valley State College. Each of these individuals represents a pivotal moment in GVSU history. 

“If these students, community leaders and educators didn’t take the steps to move forward when they did, Grand Valley wouldn’t be the university it is today,” Barbee said. 

The event is an opportunity for students to develop a better understanding of GVSU history as well as pay their respects to those who made GVSU what it is today. 

“My hope is that students will walk away with a better understanding of the challenges and struggles that our panelists dealt with as Grand Valley was just starting out and the Civil Rights movement was in full swing,” Barbee said. “It is also my hope that students will hear the stories about not giving up and be inspired by these stories. It’s not every day that a student gets an opportunity to talk face to face with trailblazers that helped pave the way for them. I would encourage students to come prepared to listen and ask questions of our guests.”

Dinner and networking will take place between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m., followed by the discussion panel. The event is also LIB 100/201 approved.