Officials at West Chester University of Pennsylvania have formally apologized for the school’s past discriminatory practices and treatment of African-American students. During a recent annual campus event called “Civility Day,” African-American alumni were invited to recall the struggles they endured during their undergraduate experiences at West Chester.
Pam Sheridan, director of public relations and marketing at WCU, adds that in recent years, alumni of color — particularly African-American alumni — have shared hurtful memories with current WCU President Madeleine Wing Adler, which includes being excluded from on campus housing and not having access to the university’s swimming pool and other facilities during the 1930s and ’40s. According to published reports, many minority students were also discouraged from pursuing studies in music.
On behalf of the school’s administration, Adler recently issued an apology in the form of a written proclamation.
“The current administration, students, faculty and staff of West Chester University acknowledge with profound regret discriminatory practices, such as restrictions on campus housing and the use of other facilities and services, that brought unequal and ill treatment to the institution’s African-American students throughout many decades of the 20th century,” Adler said in a recent statement. “We offer a deep sense of remorse and heartfelt gratitude to these alumni, many of whom have shared stories of the injustices they experienced.”
Sheridan adds that the university recently invited all pre-1960 African-American WCU graduates to campus to engage in a discussion about the discrimination they faced and the era’s social climate.
“The president said it’s really time to acknowledge that these things occurred,” says Sheridan, who notes that by the 1950s Black students were permitted to live in campus dormitories. “It wasn’t just about giving them (alumni) a platform in which they could talk about it, but also they wanted to acknowledge that many of these alums really achieved despite the discrimination.”
Dr. Carson Carr, Jr., a 1958 graduate of West Chester, adds that the event aided in healing some of the wounds that exist for many past students.
“It provided an opportunity to return to the campus and do some healing because some were not allowed to live on campus at that time and it was a way for the university to do a declaration of regret regarding conditions for these students … and it was a way for the university and past students to come together for some closure,” says Carr, who is currently the associate vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York-Albany.
Carr says that he and other Black students were required to share dorm rooms with one another during his undergraduate experience at West Chester. This practice, he says, hampered potential friendships between students of color and their White counterparts.
Despite past memories of discrimination, however, many WCU graduates are proud of the strong education they received at the 137-year-old institution, Carr says.
“We got an outstanding quality education there. We had some great teachers who prepared us for our professions … we are really happy with the type of education, in spite of some subtleties (of discrimination) that still existed,” says Carr, who adds that he appreciates West Chester’s continued commitment to advancing diversity and acceptance via various campus programs and institutions such as the school’s Frederick Douglass Institute.
Sheridan adds that WCU’s annual Civility Day is part of the university’s year-round pledge to encourage mutual respect among students and faculty.
“The president sees this as a foundation for success at the institution,” she says. “And part of this success included valuing diversity in experiences and different ideas.”
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