Impact of Black President at PWI

Students provide input on feelings of having a black president at Radford University, a predominantly white institution.

Man at desk

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator: President Hemphill is the first black man in the highest leadership position at a learning institution that I have attended.

By Faith Galloway | fgalloway1@radford.edu

The glass ceiling is a metaphor representing an invisible barrier that prevents minorities from achieving high levels of success. 

President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., has served as Radford University’s seventh president since 2016. A trailblazer, President Hemphill has led the Highlanders with distinction and demonstrated the value of inclusion.

[epq-quote align=”align-left”]According to the American Council on Education, only 17 percent of college presidents belong to racial minorities.[/epq-quote]

According to the American Council on Education, only 17 percent of college presidents belong to racial minorities. As a black man, President Hemphill’s commitment to the entire student body is inspirational and evokes a special pride within the African American population.

Radford is a predominantly white institution (PWI). According to Radford’s Fact Book, of the 10,228 students enrolled for this Spring semester (undergraduate and graduate students), there are only 1,339 African American students in attendance.

With heightened awareness of the global human rights movement and sensitivities associated with African Americans in positions of authority, I took it to Radford University’s streets to get a real talk from the African American student body to evaluate their thoughts on having a black President.

Natoya Smith is a junior who has a unique insight into the black experience, understands the impact of a divisive community, and advocates equality and justice for all during sensitive situations.

“Personally, I loved the idea of having an African American president because of the fact that we go to a PWI. Historically, African American students don’t have representation in key positions of leadership or authority,” said Smith, “President Hemphill not only gives our demographic a role model to emulate, he gives hope of systemic change. Specifically, opportunities being attainable for people of diverse nationalities based on qualifications and character. It’s great to see someone that looks like me as President.”

[epq-quote align=”align-right”]Having representation in leadership positions by qualified individuals that influence positive change resonates with me and many others that I’ve interviewed.[/epq-quote]

Having representation in leadership positions by qualified individuals that influence positive change resonates with me and many others that I’ve interviewed.

“To have a black President is the best thing ever,” said senior Karah Foster.

Foster expressed that attending a PWI during unprecedented times in America, including social injustice and white fragility, has been difficult for all.

President Hemphill has demonstrated it is possible to balance the scales by fostering an environment that values diversity and inclusion for all students.

I have lived abroad in Europe, South America, and the Middle East for most of my formative years. I am a transfer student to Radford from a junior college in the Northern Virginia area.

Though I have been exposed to various cultures, I was essentially in culture shock when I arrived at Radford. Cultural divides seemed apparent for multiple reasons, including housing and social environments.

[epq-quote align=”align-left”]Cultural divides seemed apparent for multiple reasons, including housing and social environments.[/epq-quote]

President Hemphill is the first black man in the highest leadership position at a learning institution that I have attended.

He inspires all demographics to thrive and dispels the notion of maintaining the status quo. He is relatable and challenges us to learn, grow, and excel together.

Sophomore Anesa Carey shared that in having a black President, “I think it gives you a sense of safety like ok, I know I’m not going to be taken advantage of. Or if something goes wrong, I have someone to turn to”.

As expressed by Carey, we all must have someone to turn to. This includes students and faculty. 

“I believe that President Hemphill models the behaviors for other faculty to follow. He is so friendly and helpful. He has an open mind to find fairness in everything. I think the faculty should try to follow what he is doing,” said sophomore Cejun Peaks.

“I think there is a good amount of equity. Anything the black community wants to do, it’s never really turned down, so I really like that,” said Carey.

[epq-quote align=”align-right”]For example, the Bigger Picture March was a student-led and organized event in response to social injustice towards the black community.[/epq-quote]

For example, the Bigger Picture March was a student-led and organized event in response to social injustice towards the black community. In support of this peaceful event, President Hemphill attended to show support for students.

In summation, from the students’ perspective, there is a strong sense of pride in having a black President at Radford. 

President Hemphill is characterized as a leader who values diversity and inclusion and inspires us to be our best.

President Hemphill’s kindness and respect for humanity sound the loudest alarm. President Hemphill makes the black community at Radford proud.

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