Lenoir-Rhyne University strives to be an institution of higher learning focused on developing future leaders who will foster positive change in their communities. It works to be a campus of diversity where inclusion isn't just welcomed. It is aspired to.
In the wake of current events, that mission is more important than ever.
"I have the privilege to work with every area of campus on diversity and outreach," said Emma Sellers, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. "With what we've been doing, we're not starting from ground zero in our social justice engagement."
Sellers started at LR in 2006 and has served in a variety of positions. The Office of Multicultural Affairs was created in 2012, and she's served as its first and only director.
With increased social unrest throughout the country since the death of George Floyd, her office is seeing activity that she hopes results in positive and permanent change.
"The world has been shaken with what's happened with these most recent events," she said. "My gut is that we haven't seen anything like this since the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago. People and organizations cannot turn a blind eye.
"We are, of course, dealing with coronavirus, and that put the world on pause. We don't have sports. Kids don't have soccer or swimming, so the world has been forced to pause and see what has happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Our distractions are gone. There's no possible way to turn away from it. This will make the world different."
Multicultural Affairs is active on campus holding Hispanic Celebration, Native American Celebration, Black History Month Celebration, Women's History Month Celebration and Asian Heritage Month Celebration events.
Under Sellers' direction, the office has developed the Leadership Challenge, Dreamers Program and Peer Mentor Program, all of which foster a supportive and inclusive environment at LR by reinforcing the interests of students to advocate for social justice and positive peer relationships.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, her office has also taken the lead to offer multicultural resources that educate and support first-year students and transfer students during their virtual new student orientation.
"We want to make sure we're doing a better job of creating a campus of inclusion for all our students in this virtual world," Sellers said. "Diversity and inclusion is being together and learning from each other, but at the same time, we have this virus telling us to stay 6 feet apart."
Sellers has worked with resident assistants, orientation leaders and other student leaders to provide anti-racism training and take part in diversity discussions. All first-year students and transfer students are now required to undergo similar training in orientation.
Faculty have undergone training and taken part in workshops to learn how to teach through an equity lens. There will be equity and inclusion training and discussions offered through the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and faculty teaching first-year experience courses are teaching, An American Summer, by Alex Kotlowitz. Each college on campus is engaging in conversations to determine a unified approach to creating an equitable environment.
Lenoir-Rhyne is also taking part in the Braver Angels: Malice Toward program. With the country in the midst of a divisive presidential election, this program seeks to develop understanding and come together regardless of who wins. It's being supported by the Office of the President, Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Living Well Center at LR.
Community of inclusivity
Amarrian Brown is used to shining beneath the bright lights, but he never expected to take center stage.
A defensive back for Lenoir-Rhyne's nationally ranked football team, Brown also doubles as an artist. The 21-year old Warner Robins, Georgia, native is majoring in graphic design with an eye toward working for a tech giant such as Microsoft or Apple after graduation.
When art director Claire Pope asked students to submit idea proposals for a 10-by-75-foot mural at the Hickory Art Museum, Brown submitted an idea of a man at a protest waving a Black Lives Matter flag. His proposal was selected, and he spent the summer painting it, in between workouts, at the museum in an exhibit that could be around for years.
"I don't know if it has hit me yet how much of an impact it will make on other people," he said. "I just thought of it as an assignment, but as I worked through it, I realized I have a platform."
Brown said the mural is based off a photograph one of his friends from Georgia took during a protest. Brown made it a black and white photo and used software to clean up some of the noise to make for a cleaner mural.
Brown said his teammates and coaches have been in his corner throughout the process.
"They've been supportive," Brown said. "They told me, 'I didn't know you were a Picasso.' I said, 'I'm just a regular athlete.'
"The whole community has been supportive since I first stepped foot on campus. I don't think this (mural) brings attention to this community. This community does a great job being diverse and treating everyone well."
In its goal to address issues of diversity and social equity, the university developed the Lenoir-Rhyne Equity and Diversity Institute (LREDI) based out of the Asheville Center.
A timely program given the current climate, LREDI was a year in the making when it was introduced in the summer of 2020.
Conceived by program director Aisha Adams, she worked with Dr. Michael Dempsey, dean and director of the Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville, to develop a curriculum, gain sponsors and promote the program throughout the southeast.
"This is not a course on historical perspective," Dempsey said. "Our goal is to train people and provide them with deliverables that they can use to ensure equity and diversity are core principles in their professional and personal lives."
LREDI is a program that offers classes such as Foundations of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Equity over Everything and Starting the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Discussions.
"It's an opportunity for professionals to go through this certification and training and take away something tangible that will make sure their organization is more inclusive," Sellers said. "Is that in advertising? Is that in leadership? This is not where we learn about biases. It's not where we learn about racism. There is a lab where whatever you create goes directly toward what your organization needs."
A 30-hour program, LREDI provides participants 16 hours of coursework focused on leadership with 12 additional hours of strategy geared toward company-specific solutions. It culminates in a two-hour session that allows participants to explore equity as it relates to real-life scenarios.
Originally designed to be based out of Asheville, the has now been adapted to be delivered virtually wherever an interested party has internet. The program also can be delivered on-site at businesses to provide training to entire companies.