Over the course of many conference calls last year, fellow trustees Hoyt H. Harper II ’77 and Alan Mills ’79 came together with classmate Cynthia Walker ’78 around a common cause: expanding diversity and strengthening inclusion at Carthage.
“We knew we wanted to support Carthage, and specifically students of color,” says Mr. Harper. “We had a shared passion, and we knew we were going to get something done.”
From those calls, plus personal campus visits to meet with students and faculty, they’re indeed getting something done — in a big way.
Their initiative bolsters funding for students. That includes an endowed scholarship named in honor of the College’s first African American female and male graduates: Lorraine Wiggan ’46 (aunt of Ms. Walker) and Alonzo Kenniebrew ’54.
They’ve also launched the Wiggan-Kenniebrew Black Alumni Network, the College’s first official affinity-based alumni group. Priorities for the W-K Network include fundraising, mentoring, connecting students to internships and other career opportunities, and advocating on their behalf.
Mr. Harper says the scope of the program speaks to the power of rekindled friendships with classmates who share a deep pride in Carthage and gratitude for helping to launch their careers.
“It was inspiring to hear the success stories of the others on the phone and what they’ve accomplished after Carthage,” says Mr. Harper, a principal with HHHarper & Associates in Stamford, Connecticut.
Both Mr. Mills and Ms. Walker hold high positions in law, Mr. Mills as a partner at Barnes & Thornburg law firm in Indianapolis and Ms. Walker as chief judge for the 50th District Court in Michigan.
Ms. Walker’s friendship with and admiration for Mr. Mills is a big reason she got involved. President of the Black Student Union while at Carthage, he was awarded a prestigious Truman Scholarship — the College’s first — for his dedication to service.
“It’s not hard to support an effort you believe in and that is supported by someone whose friendship and integrity has stood the test of time,” she says.
The group got off to a strong fundraising start, with gifts totaling more than $65,000 last year. Besides scholarships, that funding will underpin experiential learning opportunities such as J-Term study tours, Summer Undergraduate Research Experience projects, and internships.
Mr. Harper, who established the W-K endowed scholarship, sees that funding as critical to attract more historically underrepresented minorities to Carthage. The group hopes to grow it to $100,000 in the next four years and to $300,000 within a decade.
“I believe in paying it forward,” says Mr. Harper. It’s essential that the fund be endowed — expanding access and opportunity for the long term — “because diversity and inclusion will always be an integral part of Carthage. Diversity is strength.”
Another classmate, LeAnn Pedersen Pope ’79, a retired attorney now pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, was eager to contribute to the fund.
“Diversity affords a richness in the classroom,” she explains. “We need to provide the funding to attract talented African American high school students.”
The scholarship, she adds, also reconnected her with old friends — and with Carthage.
“Alan reached out to me, and I hadn’t seen him since graduation,” she says. “But he knows how passionate I am about this issue, and I was happy to sign on.”
The group also wants to have an “active impact on the lives of future students,” Mr. Harper says. When Ms. Walker visited campus, he recalls, pre-law students were “clamoring to meet her. Students are eager to hear about practical, real life experiences of alumni, and we are looking forward to building more of those connections.”
Mr. Mills says the gathering momentum around issues of inclusion and diversity reconnect him to his experiences of being a Carthage student some 40 years ago. Today, there are three times as many students who identify as African American — about 175 — than when he was an undergraduate.
That’s progress, he said, yet it requires a concerted effort to ensure the full meaning of diversity enriches the entire Carthage community.
“My friends at Carthage helped develop my social conscience core,” he says. “They put meat on the bones of my childhood values of justice, peace, equality, and honesty. We are now coming together, because these values, we know, benefit everyone.”
For his part, Mr. Harper is optimistic change will continue to come.
“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “What we’re doing is creating a greater sense of awareness and sharing our experiences and talking about what we need to change.”
Opening his 1977 yearbook recently, he found a quote that Mr. Mills shared as a sophomore: “If Carthage could learn to overcome its prejudices and accept each other as one, it would be a beautiful place.”
Today, that dream of one Carthage community looks far less remote to Mr. Harper.
“Carthage,” he says, “is on its way.”