Leadership program launched in memory of Dr. Houston Roberson’s dedication to students of color

By Klarke Stricklen
Junior Editor

This past August, Barbara Banks, director for campus life, sent out an email detailing a leadership program targeted towards sophomore, junior, and senior level students from diverse backgrounds. Banks sent the email out on behalf of Nicky Hamilton (C’99), director of community development, and Karen Proctor, special assistant to the provost. The two spearheaded the program through a grant from the Jesse duPont Foundation in honor of the late Dr. Houston Roberson, the first African-American tenured professor, whose office resided in 213A in Walsh-Ellett, hence the name.

The 213A Leaders Program is a program grounded in the history of social change movements that assists students in their leadership journey and educational advancement.

In an interview with The Purple, Hamilton explained the significance of the history within the program. 

“Being grounded in one’s history is very important to me because I grew up during a tumultuous time watching civil rights leaders in South Africa,” said Hamilton. “It is important to be steeped in that history, so that you don’t lose sight of who you are and how powerful you can be.”

The program aims to increase students’ ability to enact social change on campus through leadership programming, an in-depth focus on leadership skills and communication skills through the history of social change initiatives, and guiding students through their pre-professional development. These objectives will be increased through three core elements: the Pilgrimage, the Literacy Society, and Rules of Engagement workshops.

“I am excited to see the positive change they will bring to the students of color on campus,” said Brechelle Corn (C ’20), “Their initiatives makes me excited for incoming classes of students!” 

Corn believes that the program will spark additional support for student leaders of color on campus academically and socially; something that has never been done before. Through each of the core elements mentioned previously, students are able to engage with a diverse set of professionals in their potential field, world renowned consultants and writers, and a specialized excursion that will allow students to truly reflect on their values and mission from within the program.

The Pilgrimage aspect of the program will be debuted this fall break and will provide students with a reflective journey throughout the south and visit several civil rights museums and memorials. 

This past spring, two elements of the program, were previewed to a select group of students. Those were Writing for Change and Protocol Studios. Writing for Change is a literary boot camp that seeks to explore social justice and advocacy through writing. The boot camp was led by Dr. Gholnecsar Muhammad, an assistant professor of literacy and language at Georgia State University and the executive director of Georgia State’s Urban Literacy Collaborative and Clinic.

“It was a powerful way to align my identity and my studies,” said Eunice Muchemi (C’ 19), a former student leader and boot camp participant, “before the sessions, I did not prioritize writing my own story and our history, to be clear I knew it was important, I just thought I was not a writer.” Muchemi added that “story telling comes in different forms and that session empowered me to believe in my own style.”

Protocol Studios is a workshop geared toward career preparedness through a strong emphasis on interview skills and techniques, business lunch etiquette, and focusing on what it truly means to build and manage a professional network. Cheryl Walker-Robertson and Dennis Robertson of Protocol International led the two day training sponsored by Banks and Proctor. 

“Since the workshop, I have become more capable of controlling how I will be perceived in any setting,” said Calid Shorter (C ’21), “ I have continued to reflect on how I can correlate my professional presence to establishing my desired personal brand.”

Students will also be encouraged to participate in internships and volunteer opportunities that allow them to use problem-solving techniques to address social issues in local and international contexts. The program will launch a literary society this coming January, which will be led by Hellen Wainaina (C’18) an Editorial Assistant for The Sewanee Review

The society is designed to enhance students’ intellectual growth and stimulate conversation through readings. The program’s outline explains the value of the program through a historical lens saying, “Literacy as the hope for people of color was historically steeped into black people’s lives and advancement,” the outline further explained that “due to the emancipatory and humanizing characteristics of literacy, it is clearly a valuable instrument, that if mastered provides access to mental freedom, political power, and agenda building.” 

The program aims to mentor accepted students throughout the duration of their Sewanee career and provide them with an elevated form of support that has not been generally offered in the past to students who are deeply interested in social justice issues. For more information about the 213 A Leaders program, please contact Nicky Hamilton and Karen Proctor.