Balogh is a model citizen for diversity
History professor's commitment evident on Grounds and at home
By Anne Bromley
He teaches 20th century American history, emphasizing the importance of the Civil Rights movement. He’s been a mentor for the Office of African-American Affairs’ program pairing faculty with minority students. He helped start the Emerging Scholars Program to encourage minority students to pursue academic careers in the humanities. He organized graduate students to take low-income city children to Little League baseball practice. He and his wife adopted three African-American children. And, with Valerie Gregory, assistant dean of admission, he served as co-chairman of the Student Life and Climate subcommittee for U.Va.’s Commission on Diversity and Equity.
Brian Balogh’s life is a well-drawn illustration of a white person who is passionate about and dedicated to the challenges and rewards of
His decision to join the diversity commission wasn’t just a moral one, said Balogh, associate professor of history. His incentive was the commission’s goal: to create a climate at U.Va. where diversity and differences are accepted.
Improving the climate “needs to be done if U.Va. is going to be a first-rate, outstanding university,” Balogh said. “The students are going to need to know how to negotiate diverse settings in life.”
Inspired by the commitment and resolve of Angela Davis and Michael Smith, who jointly headed the commission, Balogh believes their collective effort will produce the results that other task forces have not.
“It wasn’t that long ago this University was almost exclusively white male,” he said. “In the last 50 years we’ve made wrenching changes. To those who say it’s not going to happen, I say, ‘We’ve [changed] before; we can continue to do it.’ I maintain the conviction that the University is more strongly committed than ever before.”
When the commission presented its final report to the Board of Visitors last May, Balogh said he saw the president’s and the board’s determination to fund diversity initiatives in a timely fashion firsthand.
“It’s definitely not your grandfather’s BOV,” he said.
Several commission recommendations concern ways to recruit minority graduate students — the same effort Balogh worked on almost 10 years ago with Reginald Butler, director of U.Va.’s Carter G. Woodson Institute.
The Emerging Scholars Program, which Balogh and Butler developed, offers extra mentoring and funding to promising undergraduates interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in a number of disciplines in the arts and sciences. The goal is to increase the number of professors from under-represented groups.
In the classroom, Balogh demonstrates how the Civil Rights movement — which he considers the most important social movement in the United States — serves as the basis for understanding all the grassroots efforts citizens have made since then, from the anti-Vietnam War protests to the more recent mobilization of the religious right. History professors cannot teach 20th century American history without recognizing the overwhelming influence of race on this country’s history and covering the Civil Rights movement, said Balogh, who holds one of U.Va.’s three Distinguished Professorships funded by the National Endowment for the
Despite the progress that has been made in the United States, the racial divide remains one of the country’s most serious challenges, he said.
“My own experience with having a multiracial family has given me a different perspective,” Balogh said. “It has allowed me to observe firsthand the degree of racism that continues to exist and reinforced what I knew intellectually as a 20th century historian” of the United States.
Both Balogh and his wife are white; Balogh is Jewish and his wife is Protestant. They adopted three African-American children — two boys and a girl.
He and his wife have found various ways to expose their children to their mixed cultural heritage, but being good role models as parents and the family’s network of friends seem to have the most influence, Balogh said.
“We went out of our way to meet people with different backgrounds,” he said. “You can’t force friendships, but you can move out of your comfort zone to meet people.” Some lasting friendships have developed from those efforts, he said.
Another avenue for building relationships presented itself to Balogh about six years ago when his sons played baseball, and he noticed little
minority involvement in the city’s Little League organization. After looking into possible reasons, he found that many African-American youngsters needed equipment or transportation. He created a program called Practice Partners to provide fledgling ball players not only with baseball gloves and rides to practices and games, but also with graduate student mentors who teach their young friends both life skills and baseball skills.
Emphasizing those kinds of personal experiences, Balogh said the diversity subcommittee members spent a good deal of time discussing the idea for an undergraduate program called “Community Engagement.” The program, which the provost’s office is in the midst of developing, would coordinate the wide array of offerings U.Va. already has, plus add new ones, to give students the experiences in diversity that will not only better prepare them for their lives in the future, but also break down racial barriers in their lives today.