Rick Turner, OAAA dean
African-American Affairs office
has charted successful, 25-year course
Office of African-American
Affairs set sail in rough seas a quarter of a century ago
and still is on course with a focus on academic achievement, student
retention, advocacy for black issues and cultural programming
OAAA has strengthened the University through its many efforts
in nurturing diversity and promoting African-American cultural
events, raising institutional awareness and helping U.Va. grow
into an ethnically and culturally rich institution that reflects
modern society, said Gene D. Block, vice president and provost.
office was built in the aftermath of the American civil rights
movement. In 1969, President Edgar F. Shannon Jr. sought advice
on desegregating the traditionally all-white, all-male bastion
of higher education. A faculty committee recommended: The
first thing that must be done is to convey to the entire Commonwealth
of Virginia that all Virginians are welcomed at the University.
October 1975, unhappy with the slow pace of progress, the Black
Student Alliance called for the establishment of an Office of
Minority Affairs, an idea quickly endorsed by a University planning
a century: African-American milestones at the University
Walter N. Ridley is the first black student to enter
U.Va. and earns a Ph.D. in education three years later.
The first black undergraduate, Robert Bland, receives
his engineering degree.
March 1963 n Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at U.Va.
1963 Faculty, students participate in citys
first sit-in at Buddys Restaurant.
1969 Student demonstrators demand recruitment of
black students and faculty and the establishment of a Black
1969 Associate professor William Elwood is appointed
assistant for special programs in charge of U.Va.s
1970 Faculty adopt an interdepartmental major in
1976 U.Va. establishes the Office of Afro-American
Affairs, with William M. Harris as the first dean.
OAAA inaugurates Spring Fling Weekend to encourage
n Paul L. Puryear takes the post of OAAA dean.
1981 U.Va. creates the Institute for Afro-American
and African Studies, directed by Armstead L. Robinson until
his death in 1995. The institute is later named for Carter
G. Woodson, who founded African-American History Month.
1985 Puryear starts a diversity workshop to improve
relationships between black students and white faculty.
Rev. Joseph A. Brown becomes OAAA dean.
1986 Students call for U.Va.s divestment in
companies in South Africa under apartheid.
1986 Task force makes recommendations for the enrollment
and retention of black students and faculty.
80s to present U.Va. is cited for having the
highest graduation rate of African-American students, around
84 percent, among public universities.
M. Rick Turner named OAAA dean.
February 1990 n The Luther P. Jackson Black Cultural Center
hosts Rosa Parks.
Black Student Alliance members march to Carrs
Hill to protest race issues.
Office of Equal Opportunity Programs issues the Muddy
Floor report assailing the working conditions for
African-American classified staff.
Longitudinal Study of African-American students shows
that the majority find OAAA is a useful resource.
in 1976, the Office of African-American Affairs (its name changed
in the mid-90s) was charged with promoting the success of
African-American students and an institutional culture that embraces
a welcoming environment for African-American students is the guiding
star of the office and the inspiration for dean M. Rick Turner.
Our goal is to provide a high level of comfort for black
students bsy being here, by providing a place to go and a friendly
shoulder to lean on, Turner said. We shower our students
with love and care.
of the programs established under Turners guidance have
made the University a national leader in retaining and graduating
all, its nationally recognized Peer Advisor program, established
in 1984 and run by Associate Dean Sylvia V. Terry since 1989,
has played a crucial role in U.Vas success in graduating
black students, Turner said. [See companion story.]
In 1993, the American Association of University Administrators
recognized Terrys work for exemplary practice in achieving
campus diversity, and in 1999, The Templeton Guide: Colleges
that Encourage Character Development cited the initiative as a
successful OAAA initiative is the Faculty-Student Mentoring Program,
directed by Assistant Dean Xiaoming Peter Yu, which
matches second- and third-year students with faculty members with
similar interests. In 1998, the State Council of Higher Education
for Virginia recognized it as one of the successful student
retention models in Virginias colleges and universities.
OAAA has been instrumental in the recruitment and retention of
African-American students and in promoting an institutional awareness
of issues affecting minority students, said Leonard W. Sandridge
Jr., executive vice president and chief operating officer.
1999, according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education,
U.Va.s graduation rate for black students was 86 percent,
tied with Dartmouth College and Duke University, and behind only
seven prestigious schools in the Northeast. For the past several
years, among public institutions of higher education, U.Va. has
had the highest graduation rate for black students in the country.
a critical mass of African-American students at U.Va. is one of
the major reasons black students come here and graduate,
contact is key
to OAAAs success with African-American students has been
the close ties Turner has established with their parents. The
OAAA holds an annual orientation program, Harambe I,
to welcome entering African-American students and their parents
to U.Va. President John T. Casteen III and other top University
officials attend, Turner said.
courtesy of Corks and Curls yearbook, 197
of U.Va.s Black Student Alliance, and other students,
met with President Frank L. Hereford in the mid-1970s urging
him to establish an office to address minority concerns. In
1976, the University formally established the Office of Minority
Affairs, now the Office of African-American Affairs.
office also hosts a fall program for parents during Family Weekend,
and throughout the year, Turner keeps in touch with parents by
telephone, meetings and mailings of a semi-annual newsletter,
office also does its part to support and recognize students
accomplishments, holding Harambe II, an annual awards
ceremony honoring entering students who have earned grade-point
averages of 3.4 or higher after the first semester. Two years
ago, a similar program was added to recognize students with consistently
high academic achievements as well as accomplishments in leadership
college experience will be the foundation for the rest of their
lives, Turner said. I urge our students to leave their
own personal legacy at the University.
Luther P. Jackson Black Cultural Center takes the lead in coordinating
OAAA cultural events with academic departments and University
groups. The center co-sponsors a broad array of programs year-round
concerts, lectures, art exhibits, poetry readings, plays
and food festivals, to name a few.
OAAA takes a lead role in organizing activities for African-American
History Month, bringing guest speakers and artists to the Grounds,
ranging from jazz pianist Herbie Hancock to African scholar Ali
of African-American Undergraduates
1967 was the first year that U.Va. kept statistics on African-American
1976 was the year that U.Va. established the Office of African-American
SOURCE: U.Va. Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies.
are very proud of the cultural programming our office sponsors,
Turner said. There was little to none in place before the
office was established and it has grown gradually over time. Our
office has worked hard to help broaden the cultural horizons of
the University community as a whole.
to the efforts of the Office of African American Affairs and support
from faculty and administrators, the minority presence at U.Va.
has grown, although it hasnt yet reached the point where
it mirrors the population of minorities especially blacks
in the larger population.
now make up 3 percent of the teaching and research faculty and
6.7 percent of administrative and professional faculty, more than
doubling in both cases from 1976 levels. Two recent, high-profile
administrative appointments that have gone to African Americans
are Craig Littlepage as athletic director and Paul E. Norris Jr.
as chief of U.Va. police.
black undergraduates now at U.Va. are enthusiastic participants
in University life, active in musical and dramatic performances,
leaders in student government and other groups. Many also excel
academically and have won University-wide and national recognition
for their achievements.
University has made progress, Turner said. But because
of the persistent nature of the problems of race in our society,
unfortunately, I think this office will always be needed.
continue, but the seas of social change are gentler now than a
quarter century ago. African-American students still appreciate
the sense of security that comes from climbing aboard a smooth-sailing
ship with Turners hand at the helm.