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Wittenberg Celebrates the William A. McClain Center for Diversity

September 12, 2012  
 Filed in Uncategorized

Springfield, Ohio – A wide range of Wittenberg University community members gathered at 825 Woodlawn Ave. on Wednesday, Aug. 29, to celebrate a Civil Rights pioneer as the former William A. McClain Black Culture House became the William A. McClain Center for Diversity.

The McClain Center now houses the offices of the American International Association (AIA), Concerned Black Students (CBS) and Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA), bringing the resources of these organizations together under one roof and providing a new venue for group activities.

(From left) University President Laurie Joyner, GSA President Zach Castle, Director of Multicultural Affairs John Young, CBS President Moses Mbeseha, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Students Sarah Kelly, and CBS Past-President Chaunta Banks surround William McClain ’34.

“Before this point, the student groups now occupying the center functioned relatively independently providing rewarding programming around social issues, but the process of planning, organizing and then running these events required fairly little by way of collaboration, negotiation, mutual understanding, and, yes, conflict management,” said Associate Professor of English and Advisor for GSA Rick Incorvati.

“Now the students who are most active in promoting diversity awareness at Wittenberg will pursue their mission in a location where interaction between groups is routine, where student group presidents regularly report to each other, and where their environment serves as reminders of experiences represented within the center’s doors. This arrangement increases the opportunities for our students to learn from each other, and it may also enrich the ways they carry out their social awareness mission on this campus.”

The ceremony began as Associate Dean of Students and Director of Multicultural Student Programs John Young recognized current presidents of CBS, AIA and GSA, the Honorable Judge William A. McClain, Wittenberg class of 1934, and Wittenberg Board of Director Emeritus Ronald Woods, class of 1969.

Woods, elected the first president of the newly formed CBS in 1969, spoke of the walk-out he and a group of African American students conducted that January when a list of 13 demands to support racial equality and diversity on campus were not met by the university. The walk-out lasted two days.

“Judge McClain acknowledged the successful resolution of our objectives, but noted that he might have chosen another route,” Woods said as he compared the change in the racial climate from 1938 to that in 1969 and of today. He went on to introduce Chaunta Banks, class of 2013, whose vision led to the establishment of a diversity center on campus.

Banks, the 2011 president of CBS, had shared her vision for combining the efforts of these groups with Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Students Sarah M. Kelly, who, with several others in the Office of Student Involvement, encouraged and supported her efforts. Banks thanked all of those who helped make her dream a reality before introducing Wittenberg President Laurie M. Joyner.

“Judge McClain, today we stand together to celebrate the rich diversity of this campus – diversity that contributes to excellence, strengthens our community and models an institutional commitment to justice,” Joyner said. “We stand together because of a number of students, who, like you, embrace change, foster respect and see the interconnectedness of our shared humanity. And we stand together today as reflections of our mission.”

As a student, McClain was the first African American to ever win the state and national Intercollegiate Oratorical Associations’ contests. He rose to prominence in his legal career and served as a judge in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and then in the Municipal Court of Hamilton County.

“My thanks also go to Judge McClain for continuing to inspire our students more than 78 years after you graduated from this institution. May you continue to pass your light on to others, and may the important work taking place inside the McClain Center for Diversity continue to inspire all of us for years to come,” Joyner concluded.

In closing, McClain shared what he called the successful trilogy of his life – being aware of a higher power, of his own behavior and of the needs of others, “To be successful you must feel centered – theo-centric, ego-centric and socio-centric.”

Written By: Phyllis Eberts
Photos By: Erin Pence

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