Professor calls '70s a time of 'firsts'

Grace-Odeleye recalls events of racial injustice throughout history.

It was the 1970s. The Vietnam War had ended. Civil rights were being implemented. Affirmative action had been born.

For Beverlyn Grace-Odeleye, it was also a time of "firsts."

"You saw doors opening for people of color and the poor," she said. "They were getting into positions that they'd never been in before. There were a lot of black and women 'firsts' because affirmative action benefited women as well."

Grace-Odeleye serves as Ball State's associate dean of students and ombudsperson at Ball State. She received her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and history with a minor in political science in 1976 from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. She later received her master's degree in counseling from Howard University in 1980.

She is currently working on a doctorate in organizational leadership from Regent University, a Christian graduate school in Virginia Beach, Va.

During Grace-Odeleye's undergraduate years there were 24,000 students, and only 7 percent were African-American. Grace-Odeleye said because of this small percentage, black students felt it was important to be close.

"We pulled together and socialized," she said. "We felt it was important culturally for us to connect with each other because it was nice to be with someone who culturally knew what you were talking about."

Grace-Odeleye said that although black leadership was strong, a large number consisted of members of greek organizations. She pointed out, however, that no one made a distinction because of the small percentage, and the greeks became mentors to the incoming students.

"They stepped in and looked out for us as freshmen," she said. "They mentored us on how to survive academically in a small, Southern Illinois town, because a lot of the blacks came from Chicago."

Despite the positive atmosphere, racial tension still existed. Grace-Odeleye said there were situations where black students accused faculty of treating them unfairly. The students also complained of discrimination in the residence halls, which resulted in racial conflicts.

When Grace-Odeleye was a freshman, her roommate's mother called the residence office and tried to have her removed when she learned Grace-Odeleye was an African-American. When she was a resident assistant, Grace-Odeleye said she remembers hearing students use racial slurs against her when they were intoxicated or unruly.

According to Grace-Odeleye, she was able to overcome the angst with the help of the assistant director of housing and two hall directors, all of whom were African-American.

"Without that support and mentoring I probably wouldn't have survived that year as an RA," Grace-Odeleye said.

Overall, she said her college experience taught her tolerance and respect for differences.

"A lot of us came out of black communities and schools and did not have a lot of contact with other people," she said. "(College) gave me the opportunity to learn about myself, live with others and to be a citizen in terms of understanding my rights and obligations to others as an African-American."


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